When Graham Manley came to Syracuse five years ago, he knew his first priority would be football. But that didn't stop him from moonlighting with the wrestling team.
After convincing SU head coach Paul Pasqualoni that he could do both without ever missing a football workout, Manley practiced his grappling in the early morning, late at night or in between classes. He also worked out with the football team, and somewhere in there, he found time to study.
"When I did wrestle my first couple of years here, I spoke to the coaches and they really didn't want me to do it," Manley said. "But I kept prodding and Coach P finally gave me the OK.
"I was redshirted my freshman year playing football and then my freshman year I played mostly special teams, and I just wanted to be out there competing. I don't think I got that complete fulfillment from football. So during the wrestling season I thought I had a chance, and I ended up doing OK. It was something I had done growing up, ever since I was little, I always wrestled in the winter, so I don't think it was that big of a change."
The change registered as small at the time because there was a certain amount of stability in Manley's life. But over five years here, things changed more for Manley than he ever thought they would.
His impact in football was not immediate. He redshirted his first season, played in six games on special teams his freshman year, seven more his sophomore year (one reception) and became a starter his junior season. Now Manley, who wondered if he'd ever make an impact on the field, is one of the Orangemen's five captains, known for his leadership role in the locker room and on the field.
"We don't look at it as offensive or defensive captain, we just look at it as captain around here, and he's providing leadership for the young guys," Syracuse defensive back Will Hunter said. "Everyone can look up to him, see his accomplishments on the field and follow his lead."
"Graham give great leadership," fellow captain P.J. Alexander said. "Along with the rest of the captains, we're pretty much well-respected throughout the team. Graham leads from the tight end position. He plays a lot next to me on the offensive line. He's a great guy, a hard worker. He's one of the hardest workers on the team, and a lot of people look up to him for that."
Life on the wrestling mat, though, climbed in the completely opposite direction. As his football time increased, wrestling became more problematic.
When Manley wasn't playing that much in football, he was name team MVP of the wrestling squad his freshman year and was selected rookie All-American across the country. Things looked promising, until he injured his knee the following year.
Manley didn't wrestle for two seasons after that, which, it turns out, were the last two seasons in the history of Syracuse wrestling. Due to Title-IX regulations that force schools to spend equal money on men's and women's athletics, the university had to cut the wrestling program during Manley's rehab. After he injured himself, he never took to the mat again.
Watching the program die from the sidelines was no easy task, and Manley misses the sport so much, he is exploring the possibility of transferring at the season's end.
"I really miss it," Manley said. "I had my double knee surgery last January, so I couldn't wrestle. I had surgery on my thumb the winter before that, and that was the only reason I didn't get to wrestle the last two years. There is still a good chance I might wrestle this upcoming winter at another school. Right now I'm just worried about the football season, but when the season ends I know that there are some schools that have already said I could come in and wrestle right away at another school, and I wouldn't lose any eligibility since our team was dropped here."
That's right. After four and one-half years in an orange and blue jersey – or singlet – Manley may transfer to fulfill a life-long dream.
"Being a wrestling All-American is something I always wanted to do, and I feel like even though I've been out of it a little while I still have a good shot at doing it," Manley said. "I'd just have this winter of eligibility left if I want it. I'm not sure what I'm going to do though because I have to re-assess my body after the season and see how I feel. When I did wrestle my first two years I didn't play in every game so I wasn't as beat up."
That's right. There is still the matter of football to attend to, and Manley is concentrating right now on staying healthy – he had knee surgery in the offseason – and making plays as SU's starting tight end.
Last season, he caught 11 balls for 106 yards, including three crucial grabs in the Orangemen's 12-10 loss to Cincinnati. Against Temple this year, Manley caught a wide-open touchdown pass on Syracuse's patented throwback play.
With Syracuse's surprising success thus far, Manley is only worried about the game next week. But while he thinks about rejoining the wrestling circuit, the NFL also looms on the distant horizon. Stephen Brominski – who Manley used to back up and who caught the famous Virginia Tech game-winner from Donovan McNabb – earned an NFL tryout after college. Manley thinks he can do the same.
"I'm in football right now, and if I stay healthy and finish the year strong, I'd like to keep playing football, but the NFL is such a long shot," Manley said. "Even if I can get into a camp for a little while it would be fun to compete with some professionals. Even if I got cut, it would be fun to step on the field with them. So I think that is definitely one of my dreams as always."
Then, there's the matter of wrestling, something even Alexander supports. With all the changes Manley has undergone in the past five seasons – the death of a program, the dual-sport athlete, the guy with the mash potatoes for knees – it wouldn't be too surprising.
"It's great," Alexander said. "He was a heck of a wrestler in high school, and he did a good job wrestling here. The more power to him. Wrestling's not for me but if he can do it, go right ahead."