FOOTBALL

Notre Dame football: A dose of perspective from Heisman winners

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Tim Brown came back to the Michiana area Monday to help foster dreams.

The former Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner also had some strong opinions about one dream he sees unraveling.

Johnny Manziel’s.

“It’s a very tough position to be in,” Brown said of the troubled 2012 Heisman-winning sophomore quarterback from Texas A&M and his new TMZ-esque existence. “The thing with most Heisman winners is you have about three weeks of eligibility left (after you win). Wait until your bowl game, and then you’re out. Well, this is a kid who could possibly be in college for another two years before he was going to leave.

“And that’s tough, because you win the Heisman, and a lot of people think money and opportunities. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t in a position to be able to take advantage of that. But the only way that (possible NCAA violations) doesn’t happen is if he is surrounded by people that care about him.”

Manziel and his family have now surrounded themselves with El Paso, Texas, attorney Jim Darnell, who has butted heads in the legal arena with the NCAA before. And Manziel’s name and the NCAA’s come up often in the same sentence these days.

ESPN has reported that several autograph brokers allege Manziel took money from them in exchange for signing autographs in Texas, and also back in January at a Walter Camp Foundation event in New Haven, Conn., and around the BCS National Championship Game in Miami Gardens, Fla.

If proven true, it could affect Manziel’s college eligibility. The NCAA is reportedly investigating.

“I was up in Connecticut when he was up there,” Brown said of Manziel, whose attorney expects the QB to play for the seventh-ranked Aggies in their season opener against Rice on Aug. 31. “I was in Miami when he was down there.

“He had nobody with him representing him from the university. So I think they just sort of left him out there, and that made it a tougher situation for him. If somebody from A&M had been there, he wouldn’t have been involved in that situation.

“So I think it’s really incumbent on people around him to protect him. Once it gets to us — the guy who is being offered — if you walk around with no money in your pocket and somebody says, ‘Hey, here’s $10,000 to sign a couple of hundred items,’ that’s going to be hard to turn down.”

Manziel’s latest Heisman odds have swelled to 15-1, according to Bovada.LV. There are now eight players with better odds, led by Ohio State junior quarterback Braxton Miller.

Brown, ND’s most recent Heisman winner (1987), was in town Monday to help raise money and awareness for Five Star Life, a non-profit company aimed at boosting educational performance and the character of the area’s youth,

Brown, the president of the Five Star Life Board, hosted a benefit golf tournament at Morris Park Country Club. Among the former standout wide receiver/return man’s guests Monday was 1976 Heisman Trophy winner Tony Dorsett of Pitt, who also had a take on Manziel.

“When you win the Heisman Trophy, obviously, there’s a lot that comes with that,” Dorsett said. “Obviously, you’re thrust into a different lifestyle. People are going to be watching your every move, and I think Johnny is obviously learning that and learned that very rapidly.

“He has to take it upon himself to not only take pride in being the Heisman Trophy winner, but Johnny has to take it upon himself to take pride in being Johnny Manziel and represent his family first.

“He’s a young guy — and everybody keeps saying that — but you can only use that for so long. And Johnny has to grow up, and he’s going to have to grow up real fast and understand the dos and don’ts of being a young man and in life in general.

“My prayers and thoughts are with him and his family. I hope he gets through this, but I think he’s got a battle on his hands.”

Five Star results

Brown was so thrilled with the tangible results he has seen from Five Star Life in the South Bend area, he can’t wait for it to be expanded to his hometown of Dallas.

“It just show that these kids are looking for something and they want that attention and they’re willing (to take) help,” Brown said. “And for somebody to offer it to them gives them a position for them to do things that they’re capable of doing.”

Seth Maust, chief operating officer of Five Star Life, said last year 74 percent of the students involved in the program raised their grade-point average or maintained a 3.0 GPA.

More than 3,000 area students are involved in the program this year, with another 400 stuck on a waiting list as more volunteers and funds are cultivated. The students involved are in grades 6-8.

“We met with the superintendent of the state of Indiana,” Maust said. “He called middle school ‘the black hole’, because the dropout bubble is that freshman/sophomore year. He said they don’t just wake up one day freshman year and decide to drop out. They check out in middle school. That’s why middle school is so important, and that’s why we’re targeting middle school.”

The students meet with the Five Star Life volunteers once a week for two hours. More information is available at fivestarlife.org.

“For me to get involved and to be here is just incredible,” Brown said. “I’m just so happy to be able to help in this area. I tell people, ‘This is where I became a man. It all started for me here.’ So to be able to come back in this capacity is just something that really makes me feel good.”

Brown ruminations

On his expectations for the 2013 Irish: “The bar was set pretty high last year, and I’m expecting these guys to play great football this year. Obviously, it’s a big setback losing (quarterback Everett) Golson, but Tommy (Rees) is a guy who’s played, played at a very high level. He’s not a young kid, so he should be able to come in and do what he’s capable of doing.

“Defensively, I hear that we’re going to be more athletic, and so I’m looking forward to these guys playing great football. There are no excuses at this point.”

On ND’s wide receiver corps: “I think the run they had last year gave them great experience. (DaVaris) Daniels had a couple of big catches in the national championship game. It only takes one guy to be able to light that thing up. I really love TJ Jones’ game. I think he’s a guy who’s quite capable of making some big plays. So it’ll be quite interesting to see what happens.”

Johnny Manziel is pictured with his Heisman Trophy in December.