COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Johnny Football is practicing with Texas A&M. Whether he starts the opener is another question.
Coach Kevin Sumlin on Monday said he would not speculate when asked whether Johnny Manziel will be his starter Aug. 31 against Rice following an ESPN report that the NCAA is investigating whether the Heisman Trophy winner was paid for signing hundreds of autographs last January.
“There’s a lot of people involved in that decision,” Sumlin said without being specific.
If Manziel was paid for his autograph on memorabilia, it could violate NCAA amateurism rules and put his eligibility in question a year after his jaw-dropping performances made him the first freshman to win the Heisman.
Speaking to reporters as the team began preseason practice, Sumlin said he learned of the report Sunday. For now, Manziel will lead the Aggies, but his coach is clearly thinking of backups, too.
“He’ll get as many reps as he was going to get yesterday,” Sumlin said. “We’ve got to develop a backup quarterback no matter what.”
The antics have overshadowed what is expected to be a banner year for Texas A&M. The Aggies are coming off an 11-2 record in their first season in the Southeastern Conference after moving from the Big 12, a year highlighted by Manziel leading Texas A&M to a win at No. 1 Alabama. The rematch in College Station is Sept. 14.
But instead of answering questions about his expectations for the season, Sumlin was left to respond to question after question about Manziel.
“I’ve been through different things,” he said. “As a coach when those things happen, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you deal with it.”
Manziel’s teammates seemed unfazed by his recent trouble and said nothing has changed in the way they view their quarterback.
“He still has all leadership qualities he displayed last year. He’s being more vocal now; he’s taking on more of the leadership responsibilities,” running back Ben Malena said. “The off-the-field issues doesn’t bother us not one bit when it comes to a team aspect.”
Manziel and the rest of the Aggies had their first practice late Monday afternoon. If the problems were weighing on Manziel, it was hard to tell by watching him on the field.
He laughed and talked with teammates before they lined up to stretch. The Aggies practice to music and, when the first song of the day — “Versace” by Migos featuring Manziel’s buddy rapper Drake — came on, the quarterback looked carefree as he bobbed his head and bounced to the tune.