Johnny Manziel needs to mature

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- On Friday night, reigning Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel apologized to his Texas A&M teammates for his conduct this past offseason, which included an NCAA investigation into whether he improperly signed thousands of footballs, photographs and other memorabilia for money.

On Wednesday, the NCAA suspended Manziel for the first half of the Aggies' season opener, a 52-31 victory over Rice at Kyle Field, and all but declared the case closed.

As part of Manziel's punishment, the NCAA ordered him to address his teammates and share what lessons he learned from the scandal. Surprisingly, the NCAA didn't require Manziel to stand in the corner of Kyle Field during the first 30 minutes of Saturday's game for what it called an "inadvertent" violation of its rules.

"I just hope he learned that those actions may be actions that you think just hurt you, but they end up hurting the whole football team," Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. "That was the real gist of his message to the team."

Less than 24 hours later, Manziel's sophomore season started on the fourth play of the second half, and it didn't take him long to help -- and hurt -- his football team again.

After leading the Aggies to a field goal and 31-21 lead on his first series of the second half, Manziel returned to the field again after Texas A&M's defense intercepted a pass for the second straight series. Texas A&M's offense took over at Rice's 34-yard line, and Manziel scrambled for eight yards and a first down on third-and-7. After the play, Manziel motioned to a Rice defender, shook his head, and pretended to sign an autograph. After throwing a 23-yard touchdown to Mike Evans, Manziel walked down the field while rubbing his thumb and forefingers together, a gesture that typically means "money."

Sumlin said he didn't see the autograph gesture, and apparently officials on the field didn't, either. We don't know what the Rice player said to Manziel because school officials didn't make Manziel available to media after the game.

"I did not see that, no," Sumlin said. "If I had seen it, I would have done something about it. I'll see it on video and if that did happen, I'll address it."

Early in the fourth quarter, Manziel's, ahem, signature moment came on a nine-yard touchdown pass to Evans that gave the Aggies a commanding 51-28 lead. Manziel made one of his plays that few others can make, rolling to his right and then firing a strike across his body to Evans in the end zone. After Manziel's third touchdown pass of the game, he jawed with another Rice player and then pointed both of his hands at the scoreboard. Officials didn't miss his taunting a second time, and he was penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct.

Sumlin said he benched Manziel after the penalty and replaced him with junior Matt Joeckel, who started the game in his absence.

"I thought [Manziel] was pressing a little bit early," Sumlin said. "The first play, he missed a read. But he had a couple of touchdown drives and couple of scrambles and a foolish penalty at the end. No matter what the comments are, he's going to face that every week with people chirping. That's not OK and obviously I addressed that on the sideline right after the play. It's something he's going to have to deal with every week."

Manziel has no one to blame but himself. If we learned anything about college football's most polarizing player in 30 minutes on Saturday it's that he learned absolutely nothing from the NCAA investigation. Manziel's defenders will claim he's one of the game's most emotional players and will only feed off his critics, many of which claim he should have been suspended for much longer.


Individual penalties of any kind, particularly personal fouls, are things that can keep you from winning ballgames. That's all part of it. We addressed it during camp and we'll address it again this week.

"-- Kevin Sumlin

"He was on the sideline for the first half," Aggies tailback Ben Malena said. "He was itching and scratching to get out there. When he got out there, he was ready to go. He was just fired up."

Manziel was as good as he was last season, when he led the Aggies to a surprising 11-2 record in their first season in the SEC. In two quarters against the Owls, Manziel completed 6 of 8 passes for 94 yards with three touchdowns, while running six times for 19 yards. He was sacked twice and seemed more determined to stay in the pocket and go through his progressions, instead of immediately running.

Unfortunately, we also saw more signs of Manziel's immaturity during his first game back on the field. Ultimately, it's up to Sumlin to reign in his volatile quarterback. Sumlin insists he isn't going to accept Manziel's behavior if it puts the rest of his team at risk.

"The word accept is not what coaches go by," Sumlin said. "You try to do everything you can to grow better people, better players and give your team its best chance to win. Individual penalties of any kind, particularly personal fouls, are things that can keep you from winning ballgames. That's all part of it. We addressed it during camp and we'll address it again this week."

To be fair, Manziel isn't the only Aggie dealing with off-field problems. Only minutes before the game on Saturday, Texas A&M officials announced that four players -- starting nose guard Gavin Stansbury, starting linebacker Steven Jenkins, starting cornerback De'Vante Harris and backup receiver Edward Pope -- are suspended for the first two games of the season for violating athletic department rules.

The Aggies were already playing the first half without starting cornerback Deshazor Everett and the entire game without starting nose guard Kirby Ennis and backup safety Floyd Raven.

The school didn't reveal what the players did wrong, but it was apparently much worse than Manziel's infraction. Everett returned for the second half, but was ejected late in the fourth quarter for targeting after he viciously hit a Rice receiver. Under NCAA rules, Everett will also miss the first half of next week's game against FCS foe Sam Houston State. Freshman defensive end Daeshon Hall was also ejected for a personal foul late in the fourth quarter.

Playing without five defensive starters, the Aggies surrendered 509 yards of offense, including 306 rushing. If its defense doesn't improve dramatically between now and Sept. 14, Texas A&M doesn't figure to have much of a chance to upset two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama for the second season in a row.

"We've got to grow as a team and we've got to mature as a team, and that's part of our job as coaches," Sumlin said.

Normally, a coach can count on his star quarterback to lead an inexperienced team. But after Manziel spent much of the summer jetting around the country, his teammates didn't even elect him to Texas A&M's leadership council, which includes 12 players. While Manziel's teammates spent the summer working out together in the stifling Texas heat, Manziel spent much of it basking in the celebrity of being the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.

In fairness, Manziel spent one week working with quarterback guru George Whitfield and another week attending -- and getting sent home early -- from the Manning Passing Academy.

But Manziel's omission from the Aggies' leadership council should tell you everything you need to know about his stock as a leader.

On Friday night, Manziel sought to win back the trust and respect of his teammates and coaches.

His apology seemed genuine at the time.

Now, it might seem hollow.

Maybe one day Johnny Football will figure out it isn't all about him.