Johnny Manziel played in Cleveland in 2014 and 2015. (Aaron M. Sprecher/AP)

In college he was “Johnny Football,” a swaggering, hard-partying Heisman winner and Alabama slayer at Texas A&M. However, Johnny Manziel’s experience in the NFL began going sour almost immediately, to the point where, after strolling onstage at the draft while making his “money” gesture, he was quickly pining for his old life in College Station, Tex.

Not that Manziel is looking for pity, as he explained to comedian Kevin Hart in an interview posted online Tuesday. The ex-Cleveland Browns quarterback, now attempting to revive his career in the Canadian Football League, was instead engaging in some reflection on his roller-coaster journey from scrub to superstar to washout to comeback story.

Following an initial year at Texas A&M in which he walked around campus in relative anonymity while sitting out the season as a redshirt, Manziel erupted in 2012. He won numerous prestigious awards as a freshman and all too quickly grew into his “Johnny Football” persona.

“After that first year and after fame started to come, I couldn’t help but eat it up,” Manziel told Hart. Asked if he ever had a moment at school when he felt he needed to rein things in, Manziel replied that his reaction to his burgeoning reputation was quite the opposite.

“I felt like I was the guy that had to party to play good,” he said.

Two high-profile seasons with the Aggies later, Manziel became a first-round pick by the Browns, who traded up to land him and fire up their frustrated fan base. He said his friends told him he wouldn’t want to be in Cleveland, but “I was more optimistic about it. I was cool with it.”

That sunny outlook wouldn’t last long. “Once I landed and went to [the Browns’ practice facility in] Berea, Ohio, for the first time,” he said, “I was like, ‘Can I go back to college?’ ”

“I don’t know anybody,” Manziel continued. “I don’t know where I’m at. It’s cold. I don’t like it.”

The Texas native also began to dislike who he was at that point, once a game that had come so easily to him became a major challenge at its highest level. “I didn’t know what it took,” he admitted. “I didn’t know how much hard work you really had to put in to be good.”

Manziel added, “I just felt like, when I went out there that first day … and it went so bad, that just compounded into my home life.” That, in turn, contributed to his spiral into substance abuse, for which he eventually ended up in several stints at rehabilitation clinics.


Manziel is plying his trade these days with the Montreal Alouettes. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)

Released by the Browns in March 2016, Manziel initially seemed content to hit the party circuit full-time and ignore his NFL career. Perhaps fittingly for a former hotshot who found Cleveland too cold, Manziel’s attempted journey back to the NFL, and to a measure of personal redemption, has taken him to Canada.

So far, Manziel hasn’t exactly taken the CFL by storm. Signed this year by Hamilton, he rode the pine for the Tiger-Cats before they traded him last month to Montreal.

His first start for the Alouettes was little short of disastrous, as he threw four interceptions in the first half, then he fared better the following week, only to take a hard hit and suffer a concussion. Manziel has missed the Alouettes’ past two games, but he was back at practice Monday.

It remains to be seen, of course, if he has what it takes to get back to the NFL. Nevertheless, Manziel told Hart, he doesn’t “expect people to look at my story and feel bad for me.”

“A lot of what I did was self-inflicted,” he said. “I am at a point now where I can look back, I can reflect and realize that I was one way. That was wrong. What can I do moving forward, because I can’t change how I was.”

“I have a dream and a goal of getting back to playing on an NFL stage,” Manziel asserted. “I’m not going to stop until that happens.”

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