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National Columnist

Wave the red flag: Manziel veers close to edge with camp snafu

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This was a red flag. That's maybe all it was, but that's what it was. Life-of-the-party Johnny Manziel was sent home from the prestigious Manning Passing Academy recently because he didn't wake up in time to fulfill his role as counselor. Was he hung over? Simply exhausted? Still drunk from the previous night?

We don't know that. But I do know this: It was a red flag.

And it was the first red flag of this Summer of Johnny. Let's be clear about that. None of the stuff that came after the Heisman -- but before the premature departure from the Manning camp -- was a problem. Not to me, anyway. The night at the casino with a fistful of money. The night at the night club with a fistful of champagne. The Drake concert in Toronto. The trip to Cabo San Lucas. The classes online.

Red flags? None of that, no. But what happened at the Manning camp -- whatever happened -- was one.

My guess is, Texas A&M knows it and is scared to death. The school isn't going to tell us that, obviously. Manziel is more than a student, protected by privacy laws and that sort of thing. He's also the Aggies' golden goose, the single most important person on a campus of 50,000 students and thousands of faculty and staff. More important than football coach Kevin Sumlin? At the moment, yes. More important than the chancellor of Texas A&M, whoever that is? Absolutely.

Texas A&M survived before he arrived and it will survive after he's gone, but Manziel -- his ability to play football, the charisma with which he plays it -- has pumped tens of millions of dollars into the school. The Heisman. The award ceremonies. The appearances on Letterman and Leno. That stuff is priceless, and it's all Johnny. He had help, but it happened because he's that good. And it was all for Texas A&M.

So it's like I said: Texas A&M isn't going to make a big deal about whatever happened at the Manning camp. But that was a big deal, and I can explain why in one sentence: His partying, or whatever we're going to call it, got in the way of his daily responsibilities.

Textbook.

Red.

Flag.

I'm not saying Manziel has a drinking problem. Not directly, not indirectly, not at all. The facts as we know them have never covered what exactly Manziel does when he's out having a good time. We just know, he's out a lot. Having a Herculean good time. It had never been a problem until now, but now happened. So here we are.

As he told CBS Sports' Tracy Wolfson on Wednesday during SEC media days, Johnny Manziel's motto is, "Work hard, play hard."

No, really. That's what Manziel blurted out when Wolfson asked him for his motto. He followed that up with a quick, "Nah, I'm kidding," but, um, no he wasn't. He does work hard. He does play hard. That is his motto.

And as Manziel reminded everybody Wednesday, over and over and over, he's 20. College kids like to have a good time, and Manziel is a college kid. Do the math.

"I'm still 20 years old," he said. "I'm still a sophomore in college. I'm still going to do things that everybody in college does and I'm going to continue to enjoy my life. Hopefully, people don't hold me to a higher standard than that."

But here's the thing: We do hold him to a higher standard -- because he's not a typical 20-year-old, or a typical 20-year-old college football player, or even a typical 20-year-old college football star.

He's Johnny Football, for God's sake. Heisman winner. Face of college football. Fulcrum upon which the $70 million Texas A&M athletic department teeters.

Manziel says people shouldn't "hold me to a higher standard," while enjoying life at a higher standard. He does win the Heisman and meet Leno and Letterman. He does hang with Drake, chat with LeBron, date a model and party in Cabo. All of which is fine and dandy. Am I envious? Oh hell yes, I'm envious. Not bitter, don't be stupid. But envious as the day is long -- as are most of you, I would imagine.

Johnny Football has a great life and he has earned it, but for him to want to (A) cash in on his fame to the fullest while (B) not being held to a higher standard is (C) absurd. It's Immaturity 101.

But we knew that. Last month Manziel showed his age -- he's only 20, you know -- when he issued the tweet heard 'round the world, saying he "can't wait to leave College Station." He quickly erased that silly tweet and replaced it with one that was even sillier:

"Don't ever forget that I love A&M with all of my heart," he tweeted, "but please please walk a day in my shoes."

Millions of young men would walk across hot coals to walk a day in his shoes, but let's get back to the way he left the Manning camp early, his explanation for it, and what it all means. And what I see -- and this is from a Manziel devotee, as I am, someone who will continue to tweet out Manziel factoids or video clips with the word "swoon" -- is a young man who partied his way right out of the camp, is denying that's what happened and expects us to believe he walked out on such a major obligation because he chose to. Because he was tired. And because his cell phone died. And the alarm clock wasn't set. And nobody knocked on his door.

"Exhausted," is how Manziel described himself earlier this week.

But not too exhausted to travel from College Station to Hoover, Ala., a few days later to spend hours with the media. Not too exhausted to fly that same night from Alabama to Los Angeles for the ESPYs. He wasn't too tired to make the rounds at NBA games or the Drake concert or Cabo or Mardi Gras or anything else. If there's fun to be had, Johnny Manziel is alert and refreshed and ready to go.

If there's a football obligation to be met, well, sorry. Johnny Manziel is tired.

"I'm 20," Manziel reminds us.

Then stop acting 14.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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