The only thing bad about Florida high school talent and speed is when you have to face it and as a starter on one of the elite high school programs in the sunshine state, you have to face the gamut in one athletic phenom after another. Such a daunting task is intimidating to some, but for others like Joe Manning, that's the only way he would have it. "You only find out how good you are when you face the best competition out there." Joe said. "That's what I am about, because I want to test myself to the limit."
Joe's limit isn't the usual one you see for cornerbacks in that he's bigger than the "normal" DB. As I am sure you have noticed over the years, receivers have gotten bigger and yes, even bigger than that. While the measurements of the receivers have skyrocketed though, the cover-corners haven't evolved quite as quickly, some of the best defensive backs you see, still under 6'0" tall. There has been a change though, subtle, but ever-growing, Joe number himself amongst them.
Now, Joe isn't way above the two-meter plateau, but when you are at least six-foot tall, that seemingly takes you to another level as far as what you can potentially do at the position. It means you are potentially stronger, hence more physical, something that is a must in today's game where receivers are darn near linebackers playing wideout in regards to their strength. It's something that Joe has become used to, but treats even the biggest ones like any other he sees. "It doesn't matter how big they are." Joe said. "You win the battle at the line by winning the battle in the mind and after that, you just break them down throughout the entire game."
The battle Joe is speaking of is the one that lets the defensive player take the offensive players' game away from him, before he can even put it into play. "You don't give them a chance to do anything." he said. "You get in their head and just do what you have to do take it away from them."
"Lock them down, don't let them push you off the line, whatever you have to do, that's what you do to win."
Winning is something Joe knows a little about as most of his teammates do as well. As Lincoln High goes for it's third title in four years, his expectations are high in pretty much every aspect. So, confidence aside in his ability, he knows that no matter what he's done, it doesn't win the next game coming up. "Every game is a battle." Joe said. "You just have to take each one at a time. You have to think you are going to win though or you are going to lose before you even step on the field."
It's a never-say-die attitude from that never-say-die type of player, but don't think it's just attitude that gets Joe his due. Remember that size? Joe's got that and the instincts to boot. "I'm a lock-down-cover guy." Manning stated. "If you are fast, I'm on your outside shoulder. If you like going over the middle, I am on your inside shoulder. Whatever it takes to beat you, that's what I am going to do and I always think I am going to win."
Are you drooling yet? Well, if you aren't, consider yourself amongst the minority as like some of his other teammates, Manning is getting nailed with the attention and the offers. All the way into the Midwest, the offers are coming from schools like Michigan State, Iowa State and Nebraska, to right there at home, from the Gators over in Gainesville.
The choices are becoming more and more, something even someone so sure of himself wasn't all that ready for. "Whether you believe in yourself or not, attention like this is something." Joe said. "I'm very fortunate to be where I am and have to take advantage of every opportunity I can to get even better."
That's what is in store for this year, but if you read the Rodney Gallon piece before this one, you know that this season will most definitely not have one thing happening during it and that's any sort of decision. "We all made this agreement with our coach, because he didn't want all the distractions." Joe said. "So, we aren't going to do anything about making a decision on where we are going until after the season is done."
What about now though? No decisions, ok, but amongst all those teams interested in him, does he see a team that stands out? "Nebraska is my number one." Joe said. "Next to them is Florida."
Ok, this is where you have to ask why. No, it's not that NU isn't a great school or a great program, because everyone knows it is. My issue here is that it's something for a team not in Florida to get a young man out of Florida, especially if that team resides in the Midwest. So, what's with the Huskers being number one right now? "The competition in the Big XII is some of the best you are going to see." Joe Manning. "They got some of the best receivers around."
No doubt in reference to Roy Williams from Texas and Rashaun Woods from Oklahoma State, was Joe drooling at the idea of facing such well-chronicled players. There was also one other reason for putting NU at the top spot, at least for now. "I got along with coach Pelini (NU's defensive coordinator and the coach recruiting him) great." he said. "He's real straight with you, tells you it like it is and is exactly the kind of guy I like to get to know."
Ok, I couldn't resist. You know what I am talking about. That question that people just love to ask during a season that isn't over or even when it hasn't begun. I even asked Joe to do a flash-forward for me to after the season, stating where he thought he would be in his decision making.
This is what he said. "I would have to say that after taking all my visits and talking it over with my parents, I am going to be a Cornhusker." Joe said. Of course, that's a flash-forward and yes, taking into account that he wasn't wowed by any of the other visits he has yet to take. It was just one possibility that Joe said he was looking at, but right now, a strong one at that.
Unfortunately for Husker fans though, they can't fast-forward Lincoln High's season, while trying very hard to maintain his present state of mind. Nebraska is his favorite now, but will it be come the time when his agreement is over, Joe finally able to make a decision?
Time will tell as the cliche' says, but I bet you one thing and that is, it may be Husker fans hoping that he doesn't change his mind, but there's going to be a ton of fans from other schools breaking wishbones, throwing coins in the well and muttering quietly after every flying star, hoping that Joe Manning does just that.
No matter what though, we'll be watching.
Steve Ryan can be reached at email@example.com or 402-730-5619
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