August 11, 2013 Updated: August 12, 2013 at 9:14 pm
Sure, says Air Force defensive back Chris Miller, he thinks about the big time. He thinks about those glamor schools with massive, packed stadiums, where football players stroll the campus as celebrities, where classwork is not always stressed and where graduation may or may not happen.
"Definitely, I think about it," Miller said. "I mean, we all think about it. You would be lying if you said you don't."
Miller is aware of the saga of Texas A&M's Johnny Football, a young man once known as Johnathan Manziel. In December, Football/Manziel won the Heisman Trophy, helped by my vote, and glory and riches and unspeakable fun seemed around the corner.
Instead, Football/Manziel took a detour. He's struggling to control his mouth, his alcohol intake and his Twitter account. Against all odds, he's miserable, longing to depart College Station.
This, to my eyes, is unspeakably sad and not surprising. I've met many Johnny Footballs during my years writing sports. We talk about student-athletes, but far too often the student part of the equation gets trashed.
Football/Manziel is spiraling out of control. He's grown far too immense. This is no surprise. College sports are often out of control, too, polluted by too much cash and too little emphasis on the whole person. College should be about turning young adults into full-fledged adults.
Texas A&M is failing in this process when it comes to Football/Manziel.
There is another way.
On Monday, Miller and his teammates will attend a full day of class. If one of the Falcons skips classes for a few days, you can be sure immense retribution awaits. Academics matter here. Virtually all of the Falcons players will someday throw their hats in the air at Air Force's graduation.
"I would not give this up for anything," Miller says. "There's a lot less stress here. You place your mind on football, do your homework, go to sleep and wake up and do it again. I wouldn't give anything in the world for what I have now."
Don't get me wrong. There are a multitude of players on Texas A&M's football team who will be studying diligently this fall on their way to graduating. During my years covering the late, great Big East Conference, I encountered dozens of halfhearted, if that, students who were almost entirely focused on earning a paycheck in the pros.
But I never covered a team that didn't have at least a few serious students. If an athlete is determined enough, he can find his navigate his way through all the distractions and find the campus library.
And give Football/Manziel credit for this:
He's inspired college athletes all over the nation to take better care of their tweets. Air Force brought in a social media specialist last week to speak to all of its athletes. They represent themselves on Twitter and Facebook, the specialist said. They also represent the Air Force Academy.
"There's an eye in the sky and there's always somebody watching you whereever you are," says defensive lineman Nick Fitzgerald. "If you play college football, you're going to be looked at."
Still, there are some destinations where that eye in the sky watches with a blazing intensity that can turn a jubilant young man into a sad, lost young man.
Just ask Football/Manziel.