Hometown Report

‘Better than having a coach’: What two Oak Ridge grads, Johnny Manziel have in common

Former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel threw at University of San Diego's Pro Day on March 22.
Former NFL quarterback Johnny Manziel threw at University of San Diego's Pro Day on March 22. San Diego Union-Tribune

Justin Priest is a recent college graduate.

He has a job waiting for him. It's in financial consulting, in a nice office at RSM in San Diego. Can't beat the view, either, and with a good flow of traffic, the beaches are mere miles away.

But Priest is a football player, having plied pass-catching skills at Oak Ridge High School and University of San Diego. The shirt and tie can wait, Priest said. The NFL beckons and a pay-to-catch idea intrigues him greatly.

He is living the hopes and dreams of any kid who has tucked a football under his arm.

"I'm trying to keep my jersey on, to play as long as I can," Priest said by phone Monday from San Diego. "RSM is great, and it's a dream job, exactly what I wanted to do, and it's nice to have a job to take that stress off my shoulders. But it doesn't hurt not to try to make it into the NFL.

"There's only so much time you can take advantage of, and to let it pass me by would be irresponsible. I'd never live it down."

Priest has worked this winter and spring with lifelong buddy Ross Dwelley, a tight end from Oak Ridge and USD. They even worked out with Johnny Manziel, the one-time boy wonder who has tried to rehabilitate his tarnished reputation as a partier.

Manziel also wants to be in an NFL camp this summer. Priest and Dwelley had Manziel throw to them before and invited him to fire long, medium and short routes during USD's Pro Day on March 22. Representatives from 13 NFL teams were on hand.

Manziel impressed, and Priest and Dwelley hope they did, too. The hope is to get drafted, or at least signed as an undrafted rookie free agent.

Anything to keep that jersey on.

"Few days before our Pro Day and we didn't have anyone to throw to us," Priest said. "We didn't want to have a coach or a scout throw to us. We couldn't have guys on our roster do it because it could hurt their eligibility.

"Johnny is an unrestricted free agent, so he was better than having a coach. He was great. He's a stand-up guy. It wasn't a crazy, out-of-the-ordinary thing. We've trained with him before, but people were surprised and got a kick out of it."

Manziel went to Twitter to express his appreciation.

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Much love to <a href="https://twitter.com/USDFootball?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@USDFootball</a> for letting me come out today. Also big thanks to <a href="https://twitter.com/justinpriest8?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@justinpriest8</a> and <a href="https://twitter.com/RossDwelley?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@RossDwelley</a> for asking me to come throw. Far from perfect but enjoyed it fellas keep pushin <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ComebackSZN?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#ComebackSZN</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/georgewhitfield?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@georgewhitfield</a></p>&mdash; Johnny Manziel (@JManziel2) <a href="https://twitter.com/JManziel2/status/976878754181115906?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">March 22, 2018</a></blockquote> <script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>

"Much love to @USDFootball for letting me come out today. Also big thanks to @justinpriest8 and @RossDwelley for asking me to come throw. Far from perfect but enjoyed it fellas keep pushin"

Priest isn't a burner, but he isn't slow at 6-foot-2 and 212 pounds. He runs good routes and has superb hands. He had 75 catches for 1,097 yards and 13 touchdowns last fall and was named team MVP. His one-handed catch last season against Northern Arizona went viral online and was featured on ESPN.

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Dwelley at 6-5 and 245 pounds led all Football Championship Series tight ends with 10 touchdown receptions in 2017 despite missing two games with a hand injury. Dwelley has been interviewed by engineering firms, but he's not done with football, either.

Neither are those rooting for Dwelley and Priest at home in El Dorado Hills.

"We have really enjoyed follow the college careers of those two," Oak Ridge coach Eric Cavaliere said. "Ross and Justin are great all-around athletes, football, basketball, baseball, dodgeball or ping pong, and those two always seemed to be able to rise to the top.

"We always thought Ross could really make an impact at tight end (he didn't play the position until his senior season). Justin has an amazing ability to make catches in situations whee it seems not possible."

Priest and Dwelley found out fast how football goes from fun and games at Oak Ridge and San Diego to a sudden business. They watch their diet. They train religiously.

"Any wrong step and it could hurt a potential livlihood," Priest said. "This is a dream."