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Johnny Manziel says he’s ready to rebound with AAF’s Memphis Express

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Johnny Manziel is returning to the U.S. to play football. Here’s what he had to say at his first press conference since joining AAF’s Memphis Express.
USA TODAY Sports

MEMPHIS — Johnny Manziel has heard it all before.

The brutal jokes. The loaded questions. The unending doubts. Such has been the norm for the man — once the love-him-or-hate-him, devil-may-care darling of the football world — who has spent the past half-decade careening toward rock bottom personally and professionally.

But as he sat down Tuesday atLiberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in front of reporters for the first time since becoming the newest member of the AAF’s Memphis Express, Manziel said he is prepared to put the lessons he’s learned to good use.

“I guess I’ve just changed the way I used to live life,” the former Heisman winner said. “I got immersed and lost in a bunch of things that only gave me temporary happiness. (Now), I started focusing on things I really care about: family, football, trying to better my life and have a routine that makes things work, and not one that makes things break like they did a couple years ago.”

Most recently, Manziel was released by the Montreal Alouettes and banned from the Canadian Football League after he reportedly failed to show up for a mandatory counseling session. Less than three weeks later, the AAF (which touts itself as a “league of opportunity”) scooped him up and put him to work for the Express.

Coach Mike Singletary said he is keeping his expectations for Manziel in check.

“The only thing Johnny has to do is just be himself,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of the coaches he’s played for, and I know he can play. I know he is still very talented. It’s just a matter of all the other things coming at him right now — gelling with the guys and the coaches and the whole nine yards. I’m excited to see that.”

Manziel arrived in Memphis late Sunday and has spent the past couple of days getting acquainted with his coaches and teammates, participating in light workouts and learning the playbook. He called the AAF “a great fit.”

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“Me and Coach (Singletary) getting a chance to sit and talk for 20 or 30 minutes just proved this situation is different,” said Manziel, who signed the standard three-year, $250,000 player agreement. “In my eyes and in my mind, I’m here for a reason. I want to continue to get better as a player and learn from a group of guys and a group of coaches here how to not only be a better football player but a better person.”

And get back to the NFL, where he spent two seasons with the Cleveland Browns before he was released in March 2016.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Without a doubt.”

The other half of the equation, though, is his on-field performance. With only four games left in the regular season for the Express, the clock is ticking. But Manziel’s confidence in his ability to play at the professional level has not wavered.

“I have a lot of confidence in my skill level,” he said. “I don’t get away from the game very often. I keep a ball in my hand and stay working out almost daily. I think I still have a unique skill-set and the ability to play at any level anywhere.

“I’m mentally hungry.”

Express team president Kosha Irby sees Manziel’s addition as being mutually beneficial.

“Him coming to Memphis will create a lot of buzz and create opportunities for us as an organization,” he said. “And it’s an opportunity for him as a player and the coaches that get to teach and mentor him. Hopefully we can all take advantage.”

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