COLLEGE STATION — An uncanny ability to escape trouble helped make Johnny Manziel a Heisman Trophy winner.
Whether it was an arrest that could have gotten him booted from Texas A&M before he even played a game or a swarming SEC defense trying to bury him in the backfield, Johnny Football was tough to take down.
Now another off-the-field problem is a much bigger threat to the quarterback's future. After a whirlwind season where he came from obscurity to become the biggest star in college football and the first freshman to win the Heisman, the question is: Will there be a follow-up?
Allegations that he received payment for autographs could threaten his eligibility along with A&M's championship hopes, and have some in College Station fed up with his antics.
Most in this town built around the university and its football program are nervously waiting for the results of an NCAA investigation that ESPN has reported is about whether Manziel was paid for signing hundreds of autographs for memorabilia brokers during the offseason.
Coach Kevin Sumlin tried not to make too much out of what could be a season-altering situation. He pointed out that last year most expected the Aggies to struggle in their first year in the Southeastern Conference.
"We had a cloud over our heads last season, no one thought we could win any games," he said. "Every year you've got a challenge."
Regardless of the outcome of the investigation, it has already distracted from what was expected to be a big year for the Aggies. They're coming off an 11-2 record, highlighted by Manziel leading Texas A&M to an upset win at No. 1 Alabama. The rematch in College Station is Sept. 14.
Manziel's lawyer has said he believes Manziel will play in Texas A&M's season opener against Rice on Aug. 31 — even if the investigation is ongoing. Ultimately, though, it could be up to Texas A&M to decide whether they want to play a player who could later be ruled ineligible.
Sumlin wouldn't speculate on whether Manziel will play in the opener and said that a lot of people would be involved in that decision.
That question is certainly the hottest topic in College Station and perhaps in all of college football. The website TexAgs.com, a site that caters to die-hard Aggie fans, has a poll on its home page asking whether Manziel will play in Week 1. Sixty-eight percent of the 4,000 people who voted think he will, but there are also plenty of Aggie fans who believe he shouldn't.
They believe that A&M should keep him out to avoid facing possible sanctions for the program down the road.
"Holding this program and the school's reputation hostage to the immaturity and incredibly bad judgment of young Johnny is just stupid," a fan posted on a TexAgs.com forum about the issue. "Whether he took money or not, he put A&M in a really bad situation when it had the world by the tail."
Sumlin has been cagey during camp concerning the quarterback situation. But he did say that the Aggies "have to have a contingency plan for what happens at quarterback." He also said he alternates giving different quarterbacks more snaps each day at practice.
Manziel hasn't spoken to the reporters since SEC media days, but he has addressed his past mistakes, including his arrest last year, previously. Manziel was arrested last summer after a bar fight near campus and charged with disorderly conduct, possession of the fake ID and failure to identify himself to police. It was an incident that put him in danger of being suspended from school and left him having to earn the starting job in fall camp.
Manziel admitted this June that he failed to identify himself to police following the altercation. As part of a plea deal, other charges against the 20-year-old, including disorderly conduct, were dismissed, and it looked like Manziel's trouble was behind him.
"A truly critical error in judgment on my part, it's something that I look back on as one of the biggest mistakes of my life," Manziel said last year of the arrest. "From there, I've had to make a lot of changes in my life. I'm really more aware of my surroundings and what goes on in my life. I've had to surround myself with a great group of people. I have a great family, a great group of coaches here that really care about my well-being and me moving forward as a person."
It had already been an eventful offseason, filled with road trips to Las Vegas, celebrity mingling with LeBron James and rapper Drake, and early exits from the Manning Passing Academy and a University of Texas frat party. His tweets made news.
His latest trouble has many wondering if he has moved forward. But Sumlin and his teammates are standing behind Manziel, with the coach saying that the recent allegations "come with the territory of a high-profile player."
Ricky Williams, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1998 at A&M rival Texas, had some harsh words for Manziel.
"If the media did their research on who this kid was, no one would be surprised," Williams said. "It's unfortunate, it's not his fault. It's who he's always been. Just because you won a trophy doesn't mean you're going to change your behavior. But he should have known that, that once you're a big name you're not going to be able to get away with all the stuff you got away with before."
Williams did empathize with Manziel concerning the difficulties of being constantly hounded for pictures and autographs, but said his situation was different because he won the award when he was a senior. He did note that even before he won the Heisman he'd walk into class at Texas to find a table in the back covered with items people wanted him to sign.
"It's different when he potentially has three years ahead of him," Williams said. "I can imagine how difficult it would be with all the hoopla and the Heisman Trophy and still being a college student."
Manziel hasn't tweeted since Aug. 1, but his last post quoted lines from Drake's new song "All me," that said "I ain't perfect" and asks people to "stop hatin.'"
Considering the summer he's had, his affinity for that song might be seen as odd.
"Got everything, I got everything. I cannot complain, I cannot," Drake croons on the chorus.
Kristie Rieken is an Associated Press sports writer.