The postseason victory lap continues tonight for the fresh face of college football.
Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the first freshman to win a Heisman Trophy, will collect his 2012 Davey O'Brien National Quarterback Award during a dinner ceremony at the Fort Worth Club.
It will mark the latest road trip for Manziel, whose list of stops since leading the Aggies to an 11-2 record and No. 5 finish in the college football polls has included a trip to the BCS National Championship Game, a Super Bowl junket, a lunch in Austin with Texas Gov. Rick Perry and a Friday foray to Houston for NBA All-Star Weekend festivities.
Manziel and the Aggies put an exclamation point on the school's debut season as a Southeastern Conference member with a 41-13 rout of Oklahoma, a former Big 12 rival, in the AT&T Cotton Bowl Classic, Jan. 4 at Cowboys Stadium.
Because of Manziel's fondness for using social media and living life on his own terms, fans also have seen visual evidence of his post-Cotton Bowl celebration at a Dallas nightclub while holding a champagne bottle (hosted by TMZ), a January trip to an Oklahoma casino, a YouTube video in which he made a collection of trick shots with a football at Kyle Field and a recent trip to Mardi Gras, where Manziel spent time with other high-profile players from SEC schools.
Manziel, 20, said he has learned some valuable lessons as an emerging celebrity and is comfortable with his off-field activities and his Twitter account; even if some posts have triggered concerns from A&M fans and elicited a reminder from A&M athletic director Eric Hyman that, as a Heisman winner, the public will hold him to a higher standard than peers for off-field conduct.
"If you use social media as an athlete, you learn to develop a thick skin. Any criticism just rolls off my back," Manziel said in a phone interview. "Some people are only wanting a response from you, positive or negative. So you've got to have thick skin, and I do. I know what I'm doing. I know I'm in compliance [with NCAA rules] and I'm not doing anything different than a lot of other kids. A lot of 20-year-olds go to Mardi Gras."
A lot of 20-year-olds also gamble at casinos in Oklahoma, where the legal age for admission is 18. And, from a legal standpoint, being photographed holding a champagne bottle is not the same as drinking from one if you are under 21. Especially if you are accompanied by a parent, which reportedly was the case during Manziel's post-Cotton Bowl celebration.
But the fascination with Manziel's off-field activities, combined with his brilliant play on the field, seems boundless to outsiders. The topic caused Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops to utter some ill-advised words last month in an interview with Oklahoma City radio station WWLS. Although he later issued an apology, Stoops said of Manziel: "If they can keep him out of jail or keep him eligible, he's going to be pretty good. If they can keep him off Twitter, he might win three or four Heismans. He's got that kind of ability."
In response to Stoops' comments, Manziel said: "I saw some of that, but I don't have an opinion. If that's how he feels, he's entitled to his opinion. What I do off the field... I don't know that it relates to how I play on the field."
Nor does A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, who praised his quarterback's ability to perform at a record-setting level in the Cotton Bowl -- 516 yards of total offense, with two rushing TDs and two TD passes -- while coming off an explosion of national attention given to Manziel after he became the first freshman to win the Heisman in the award's 77-year history.
Unless Manziel's tweets impact his game or disrupt the team, don't look for a heavy-handed approach to his quarterback's social media stylings from Sumlin.
"Winning the Heisman should not be a punishment," Sumlin said. "This is a redshirt freshman, a 20-year-old kid. You have to be careful heaping on too much of what the expectations are for a young man."
For the record, Manziel has no plans to abandon Twitter. As of Friday, he had 306,431 followers and considers it a good way to interact with fans.
"I think the positive feedback you read is awesome, to really hear what people think about me and how I'm their role model and stuff like that makes you feel great," said Manziel, who racked up an NCAA-best 5,116 yards of total offense and accounted for 47 touchdowns (21 rushing, 26 passing) last season. "As far as my tweeting, I just try to let people know a little bit more about who I am and what I do throughout the day. I'm just a normal kid like everybody else."
But as a Heisman winner, his access to celebrities has put him in unique situations that have been documented on his Twitter feed or on other timelines. In no particular order, Manziel has been captured:
Doing the Heisman pose with Houston Rockets guard James Harden and the rapper Wale.
Fanning out some greenbacks, along with friends, from his casino session in Oklahoma. He later added a tweet reminding followers: "Nothing illegal about being 18+ in a casino and winning money ... KEEP HATING!"
Posing in an NBA arena with Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul and during Super Bowl week with several active NFL players, including Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller, a former A&M star.
Wearing beads and a floppy hat at Mardi Gras in a photo that also included Mississippi linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, LSU running back Jeremy Hill and Mississippi State defensive end Torey Dale.
Asked about his Mardi Gras experience, Manziel said: "Mardi Gras was wild. I had only heard stories. To meet up with some of the other guys we play in the SEC was cool. It's the off-season. We're not trying to beat each other right now.... Everybody should make it to Mardi Gras once or twice. I had a good time and the food was always good, too."
In fairness, most of Manziel's tweets are very tame. On his Twitter profile page (@JManziel2), there is no mention of his Heisman Trophy. Just a Bible passage, Proverbs 3: 5-6. Its message: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight."
Manziel considers himself well-grounded and family-first, which is why he finds it puzzling that outsiders wonder if he will become distracted by too many off-field activities in the off-season.
"The best thing is, I know what I'm about. And the people around me know, too," Manziel said. "The outside world can believe what they want."
He also said he is not fazed by the pressure of trying to live up to his Heisman credentials during his final three seasons in college.
"It rolls off my back, like all the other stuff," Manziel said. "You can talk all you want. But your play is what determines everything."
Manziel said he expects his play to be sharp enough next season to help the Aggies contend for an SEC title and a national championship.
"Our goal is not to lose a game," Manziel said. "I think next year, we'll have even more success. Nothing should slow us down."
But for tonight, the focus is on the O'Brien Award and joining a long list of honorees who have preceded Manziel in being selected as the top quarterback in college football.
"Looking back and seeing the people who have won it in the past, all the tremendous quarterbacks I've come to look up to, that makes it special," Manziel said. "To be among that quality group of people is an honor for me. For a quarterback, that's a staple of what you want to achieve."
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760