“Fame is a pearl many dive for and only a few bring up. Even when they do, it is not perfect, and they sigh for more, and lose better things in struggling for them.”
— Louisa May Alcott, “Jo’s Boys”
A sophomore Johnny Manziel stood on the Antler Stadium turf as well-wishers patted him on the back, shook his hand and gushed over his play on the field.
Four years later, the future “Johnny Football” would be hoisting the vaunted Heisman Trophy above his head in New York City.
But then and there he was just a confident but nervous 6-foot, 175-pound 15-year-old with the uncanny ability to avoid tackles.
The first freshman to win the highest honor in college football combined for six touchdowns while leading his hometown Kerrville Tivy to a 50-20 win over Boerne Sam Champion in his first varsity start at quarterback in the fourth game of the 2008 season.
“I felt like I had to pick the team up after we had some people missing, I felt like I had to step up in a big way,” Manziel told me then, visibly relieved after being nervous leading up to the game.
A freak athlete who never looked the part, Manziel started his first few varsity games at receiver but slid over to quarterback after the team’s senior starter was one of six Tivy players suspended after being arrested for their involvement at a post-game party with alcohol.
But since that beautiful September evening in the Hill Country, Manziel has been on a skyrocket ride toward fame. As a senior at Tivy he solidified his folk-hero status with 75 combined touchdowns, leading the nation in that category.
Now five years later, Manziel is the biggest name in college football entering the 2013 season, a year removed from relative national obscurity.
At this time last year, he battled — and ultimately beat out — former Shoemaker quarterback Jameill Showers for Texas A&M’s starting quarterback job.
While Showers transferred to UTEP, Manziel has been living it up, taking full advantage of his newfound notoriety, gallivanting across the country.
This past week Manziel had not one but two national stories written about him and his recent celebrity status.
He hasn’t handled it well.
This summer has seen Manziel’s off-the-field life scrutinized as he’s gone from flashing wads of cash at an Oklahoma casino to sitting court side at a Miami Heat game to being kicked out of a University of Texas fraternity party just last week.
Several weeks ago his actions got him sent home after failing to meet his responsibilities as a coach at the Manning Passing Academy because he reportedly “overslept” several meetings after a late night of carousing.
This is a far cry from the quiet and nervous 15-year-old of five years ago, who went to confessional just to get up the courage to start his first game at quarterback.
And, unfortunately, his off-the-field actions could be the downfall of a good kid whose greatest joy is when he’s freestyling on the field.
It’s clear to anybody who’s seen Manziel play that he loves football, he loves the competitiveness of lining up against 300-pound behemoths and dancing around them with ease.
But all that could easily disappear if he doesn’t wise up and become more careful with how he spends his off time. His unenviable position as a role model aside, Manziel has responsibilities to himself, his A&M coaches and teammates. He also has his own future to think about.
If he’s ever going to meet that future, Johnny Football needs to get back to being that 15-year-old who exuded both gut-wrenching nerves and unflinching confidence.
With preseason practices about to kick off in College Station, it’s time for Johnny to step up in a big way once again — this time for his own good.