Before the Heisman Trophy, the celebrity hangouts and the offseason mayhem, there was a time when Johnny Football went simply by Johnny. No legend. No national microscope. Not even a Texas A&M uniform.
Johnny Manziel spent his high school years at Kerrville Tivy, a 4A class program located in the hill country just north of San Antonio, Texas. The young quarterback still maintained legendary status, but on a more local level. At this point in his young career, his name had only begun to creep into national conversations.
According to , Mark Smith, Manziel's head football coach and mentor throughout his time at Tivy High School the young quarterback showed strong leadership capabilities which made him an ideal director of the high school's fast-pace offense.
"[Manziel] is competitive and he's a great leader—those two things really stand out to me," Smith said. "Johnny has already had an ability of helping those around him play at a higher level. He has high expectations for himself. He has high expectations for his teammates. He was a guy, as good as he was, that if we needed help, he would jump in on the scout team and work as a quarterback, a receiver or a running back. He never put himself above the team."
Despite Manziel's unselfishness as the consummate team player, the young athlete still managed to stand out, earning attention from college scouts ranging from Oregon to Texas A&M. After a decision to remain closer to home in College Station and an uneventful redshirt season, Manziel first took the college football stage against Florida in the Aggies' SEC opener last season and the legend of Johnny Football began to grow, fast.
An 11-2 season and a Heisman Trophy quickly shot Johnny Football into the celebrity stratosphere and the media descended upon the 20-year-old. ESPN even developed its own Manziel tracker. A few first picthes and front court seats later, former admirers turned to critics and the world seemingly turned on the young QB almost as fast as they embraced him.
However, Manziel never allowed the criticism to sway his personality or rogue-like persona. The reason? Smith said Manziel has no care for outside scrutiny. Never has, and likely never will.
"To me, he's no different than 90 percent of the 20-year-olds who are growing up," Smith said. "Most people say that's not an excuse, but it is. None of us are perfect, and I think he understands that. One thing I appreciate about Johnny is that he's going to work to make things right. He's not so much worried about what people on the outside of the building think, but rather what the people who he dresses with inside the building think. Johnny is who he is, and that's who he's going to be."
Johnny is enjoying his moments in the spotlight, and why not? Fame can be fickle and he is making the most of his time in the sun, no matter how much it burns him, what other 20 year-old wouldn't?
The public has read about Manziel's actions; his partying, his alleged indiscretions at the Manning Camp and his penchant for signing his name on things, a lot. But, what has not been covered is his heart and his intentions. It doesn't seem like anyone in the media has gotten to know the true Johnny.
Smith believes the Manziel who worked his tail off during games his senior year of high school to help graduating players score their only career touchdown deserves a pass on some mistakes he may, or may not, have made while growing up under the scrutiny of the spotlight.
"I see a lot of athletes doing a lot of the same things, but it's not the same microscope that he's under," Smith said. "There has been no other Heisman Trophy winner—none—who has had to deal with the social media the way that we do now. I think he's been under a lot of scrutiny, under a microscope, that's probably unjustified."
Even with the start of the 2013 college football season, the microscope on Manziel's life has failed to lift. During A&M's matchup against top-ranked Alabama this Saturday, CBS has a designated Manziel-camera, where it will capture every hand signal, gesture and movement the Aggie quarterback makes.
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand.