Call him the Renaissance journeyman.
For Niko Manning, the path traveled after graduating from Baldwinsville (NY) High School in 2010 included a stop at Wilbraham and Monson Academy in Wilbraham, MA, to Stevenson University in Baltimore, Md. and concluded with a two-year stint at Onondaga Community College (NY) before he made the decision to continue his collegiate lacrosse career at Syracuse University next fall.
What has remained a staple in Manning's life, though, has been the relationship with Onondaga lacrosse head coach Chuck Wilbur.
"Coach Wilbur and I have spoken for years dating back to my high school years," Manning said. "He has always told me, ‘Come play with me, just be a lacrosse player and realize what talents you could explore.'"
Manning was a multi-sport student athlete while at Baldwinsville, excelling on the field as the starting quarterback on the varsity squad to the wrestling mat and, of course, as a lacrosse player.
At Wilbraham and Monson, he expanded his taste in athletics, suiting up in goal for the school's soccer program, ran indoor track and followed that up with lacrosse in the spring.
It wasn't until he transferred back home from Stevenson that Wilbur, again, expressed his thoughts to Manning about playing for the Lasers.
"I didn't know what sport I wanted to play in college," Manning said. "Coach Wilbur, again, pulled me aside and said I had a real nice future with his program and a bigger one after if I learned under him and his staff."
Wilbur was spot-on, identifying Manning's talent as a long-stick midfielder.
"Working with the guys he has at the school made me fall in love with the game of lacrosse," he said. "It pushed me to becoming a well-rounded, more complete player, than I was before."
Manning will carry on one very important piece of information from Wilbur when he heads to Syracuse: Let the game come to you.
"You don't have to be a star out there making every play," he said. "Do you part to the best of your ability and make the play that will get the next guy open for an opportunity if it's not open for you."
There is a simple, yet powerful message when it comes to this Onondaga team: Family. The word resonates and is the reason, according to Manning, as to why Onondaga has had so much success.
"The unselfish brand of lacrosse that was preached to us makes winning as a program more enjoyable and really is a staple for OCC lacrosse," he said. "We play as a team, not individuals. When one guy scores a goal, we all do, and every guy down the bench gets as excited as the guy who scores the goal."
The two-time national champion said that Syracuse became a real opportunity the summer after his freshman year at Onondaga.
"They knew I was a local guy and they helped me stay a local guy," Manning said. "We spoke very direct. They liked what I offered and I liked very much what they offered. I committed that fall and signed a few months later knowing what I had in my future and what I had to continue to work for."
Manning took in the sights and sounds of a regular season practice and came away impressed. It was right then and there that he didn't have to look further to find that perfect fit.
Fairfield, Hobart, Holy Cross, Virginia, Sacred Heart, Quinnipiac, Mount St. Mary's Monmouth and Saint Joseph's were just some of the colleges and universities recruiting Manning.
Manning won't be the only Laser going across town to play for Syracuse. He will join teammates, Randy Staats and Ryan Vella, rounding out a 2013 recruiting class that includes six Under Armour All-Americans as well.
"I know a couple guys on the team now," he notes, "and that's why I felt it would be a good fit. I'm an older guy now so I have been out of the recruiting loop for a while now. I'm sure Randy, [Ryan] and I will step in and mesh well with the guys on that roster – both new comers and senior veterans."
As far as what type of player the Orange will get, Manning's game thrives in transition and getting the offense clicking – a self proclaimed sparkplug.
Good news for Syracuse as they have lost defensive anchor Brian Megill, two-way midfielder, Steve Ianzito and David Hamlin to graduation this past season.
"It's a fun role," he said, "but I know to do my part. My job can be as simple as picking up a groundball on the face-off then getting to the offense and getting off the field – I'm perfectly fine with that – whatever helps our team."
He continues, "I want to go prove that I can help improve the solid defensive system they already have in place and that starts with film, to being in the best shape and simply listening. Every year, a team has a new identity to play to their strengths and I'm going to be there to work and help be a part of that identity."
Patience is a Virtue
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