HOOVER, Ala. - Maybe winning the Heisman Trophy was the easy part.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel's tumultuous offseason continued Wednesday at the Southeastern Conference's media days, as the redshirt sophomore was grilled repeatedly about decisions he's made since winning college football's top individual award last December. Manziel told hundreds of clustered reporters that he's a 20-year-old trying to handle the spotlight, and that spotlight followed him as he left the league extravaganza for a flight to Los Angeles to attend the ESPY Awards.
"I never realized the magnitude of it," Manziel said of his abnormal life after the Heisman. "People told me, and I had heard it time and time again, but it's one of those things that you don't really understand until you go through it and deal with it. My situation was so different, because nobody had come back with three years of eligibility left."
Manziel was an unknown nationally when he was arrested in June 2012 for his role in a bar fight and for failing to properly identify himself to College Station police. He was suspended from the team but later reinstated by coach Kevin Sumlin, who wound up unleashing a 6-foot-1, 200-pounder who threw for 3,706 yards and rushed for 1,410 as the Aggies roared to an 11-2 debut season in their new league.
Texas A&M capped its surge with a 41-13 thrashing of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, but Manziel was photographed in the nights that followed holding a liquor bottle and a wad of cash. Those were the start of his 2013 incidents, which continued this past Saturday when he left the Manning Passing Academy early after missing some scheduled assignments.
"I think he has done some things that he's not very proud of and that he's made some poor decisions," Sumlin said. "He's made some good decisions, but unfortunately the poor decisions are the ones that are really publicized. It's a growing process and a learning process."
Manziel's departure from the Manning camp in Louisiana was instantly accompanied by Internet reports claiming he was out drinking the night before and that he was sent home by an irritated Archie Manning. The camp sent out a statement claiming Manziel left because he was ill, and Manziel's father told the Dallas Morning News on Sunday that it was due to dehydration.
Asked countless times Wednesday, Manziel said he simply overslept and did not have an alarm set or his phone charged.
"It had nothing to do with activities the night before," said Manziel, who declined comment when asked if he had consumed alcohol. "I was not asked to leave. It was a mutual decision. I wanted to be there, but at the end of the day, I was pretty tired."
Peyton Manning told ESPN on Sunday that he wanted Manziel to return to the camp next year, and other SEC quarterbacks who attended said his departure did not create any kind of stir.
"We all enjoyed hanging out with Johnny," Bo Wallace of Ole Miss said Tuesday. "He got sick or whatever and had to go home, but we enjoyed having Johnny there. Johnny is a fun kid, and I think he may catch more flak than he should in the media."
Bolting the Manning camp occurred on the heels on Manziel posting on Twitter last month that he "can't wait to leave College Station." The post was quickly removed and was in reference to a parking violation he received.
Manziel temporarily shut down his Twitter account this spring and did not post for more than a month until announcing his arrival at the ESPYs Wednesday night.
"I guess I haven't said anything lately because I haven't had anything interesting to say," he said. "Twitter is what it is, and I've learned a lot from it, but I've probably hindered myself a little bit at times."
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was asked about Manziel's Twitter troubles on Tuesday and said, "I stay off the Internet. I know better."
Manziel was off limits to the media last season as he was making history, and he admitted Wednesday that the spotlight since then has been 10 times brighter than he could have imagined. The Aggies are scheduled to start preseason camp in a couple of weeks, which may be his best medicine.
After all, Sumlin was quick to point out that Manziel has always been tremendous on the field.
"I'm just ready," Manziel said. "No more talking after this. I just want to let the football do the talking for us, like we did last year."
Contact David Paschall at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6524.