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Johnny Manziel reflects on past trouble after Texas A&M pro day

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  • By Andy Fenelon NFL.com
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Four years ago, to the day, Johnny Manziel entered the McFerrin Athletic Center on the campus of Texas A&M surrounded by pomp and plenty of circumstance.

With Drake blasting from the speakers, Manziel came out at his pro day dressed in a black jersey, camouflage shorts, shoulder pads and a helmet. It was unprecedented for a pro day, and an overflowing crowd that included high-ranking representatives from 30 NFL teams, as well as President George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, were there as witnesses. As was a captive national television audience.

"It was epic," recalled Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans, a former A&M teammate of Manziel's who was the recipient of several of the quarterback's completions that day in 2014.

Evans was in attendance for Texas A&M's pro day on Tuesday, at the same indoor facility, but Manziel entered the workout under very different circumstances. No longer was he the star putting on a show, trying to impress team GMs, coaches and scouts. Instead, he was one of two quarterbacks throwing to receivers, dressed in a black hoodie and shorts like every other player on the field, blending in like a chameleon.

Manziel split reps with Texas A&M-Commerce QB Luis Perez, the 2017 Harlon Hill Division II Player of the Year, and threw approximately 35 passes in a workout supervised by New Orleans Saints senior offensive assistant/wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson.

"I thought he looked better throwing the ball today than he did four years ago," said a veteran NFC scout who was at Manziel's pro day in 2014 and his Tuesday workout. "Better velocity, pretty good accuracy."

"The ball came out quickly," noted another scout who was also there four years ago and again on Tuesday. "And he looked relaxed."

These days, Manziel is much more relaxed. He hasn't played football since suffering a concussion in Week 16 of the 2015 season, and subsequently being released that off-season by the Cleveland Browns, who made him the 22nd overall pick of the 2014 draft.

It's all been downhill for Manziel since that pro day four years ago, but recently things have been looking up. He recently got married, was diagnosed and is being treated for bipolar disorder, has reconciled with family members, and has participated in two pro days in the last week. He also looks to be in great shape, unlike the lost soul who was showing up regularly on TMZ the last few years.

"I sit back today and have a multitude of regrets in my life," Manziel told NFL.com following the Aggies' pro day on Tuesday. "I got lost in a lifestyle, got caught up in the wrong things.

"I look back at it today, and the people that gave me advice, whether that was (businessman) Maverick Carter or LeBron (James), or anybody that I crossed paths with, including other quarterbacks in the NFL, it was in one ear and out the other. I couldn't genuinely feel it or understand it. And when I sit here at the bottom, especially a few months ago when I was really at the bottom, and I reflect back on my life, I'm now able to hear and understand what those people were trying to tell me. I sit here 25 years old and I have a lot of life experience. I don't want to make the same mistake twice, and I'm trying to learn from what I did wrong in the past."

His performance on Tuesday, and last week in the rain at the University of San Diego's pro day, are small steps toward what he says is the ultimate goal -- getting a second chance with a team in the NFL. Teams aren't exactly knocking down his door, even though he says he'd sign a contract that calls for no guaranteed salary. Last week at USD, only 13 teams bothered to send a scout to check on his progress, and on Tuesday, while 31 teams were represented (only the Bengals failed to send someone), there were no front office executives or head coaches in attendance. Only the Saints (WR), Cowboys (special teams) and Eagles (WR) sent position coaches.

None of it seems to faze Manziel, who says his focus in College Station was showcasing wide receiver Christian Kirk and Kirk's former teammates at A&M. In fact, Manziel's presence was only secured 10 days ago when Kirk was in Los Angeles working out with Manziel's trainer. The two met, and when Manziel discovered Kirk had no one to throw to him at his pro day, he volunteered. New Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher gave it his blessing, and a script was hastily put together.

It seems receiving visitors to L.A. has been nothing but a positive for Manziel of late. His father, Paul, came out in late January -- the same father who said in the summer of 2016 that the best thing for his son would be jail -- and healing started in what Johnny calls "the best week my dad and I have ever had in all of our lives."

"We played golf every day. Went to dinner together," Manziel said. "When he was about to leave for home, he started crying. 'This is the best I've ever seen you. Whatever you're doing, please keep it up.' And for the first time in all my life I heard him say that he was proud of me and where I was at in my life. It brought tears to my eyes."

Manziel said he has also mended relationships with former Browns teammates Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins, as well as many other "people I've wronged."

The next step in his football comeback is The Spring League, which starts Wednesday, then perhaps the CFL if the NFL doesn't call. And he understands that one more misstep is "probably a wrap for me and my career in the NFL."

"He seems like he's in his right mind," Evans said. "Looks like he turned his life over for the better. He's doing the right things, maturing a lot.

"Some teams believe it's high risk, but I think the reward's there. He's a phenomenal talent; he'll bring fans in and sell tickets. He can flat-out play. If someone asked me I'd tell them the truth: Johnny Manziel is a hell of a talent and should be a starter in the NFL."

"If something pops up, it pops up," Manziel said. "If not, and I don't get the opportunity to go back, I'll go play in the CFL. Things are going to be fine. One way or another, one day down the line, I'm going to get back to exactly where I want to be, and I'm not going to stop until I do."

Follow Andy Fenelon on Twitter @Andy_Fenelon.

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