By Joel Weckerly, Sports Editor
If any shades of doubt remained in anybody’s mind about Danieal Manning being our school’s premier athlete, then the football team’s final home game Nov. 8 against Texas A&M-Kingsville quickly dispelled them.
It was the Wildcats’ most important game of the season, one in which they would have to win to make the playoffs. They didn’t (ACU lost 10-7), but that didn’t stop the redshirt freshman from turning in a Charles Woodson-esque performance.
The Corsicana native recorded 10 tackles, one sack and intercepted two passes on defense, returned three punts for 25 yards on special teams and even came in for a few offensive series at wide receiver, catching three passes for 65 yards and one 31-yard touchdown reception.
After the game, senior center Blake Lewis told me, “The scariest thing about that guy is that he’s got three years left here.”
Indeed, it’s frightening-at least for future opponents-to think that Manning will be punishing them for years to come. In his first year at ACU, he was named to the Lone Star Conference South Division first team as a defensive back-though he could have easily made it as a kick returner-and was named the South Division Freshman of the Year.
Manning’s not just the best athlete at ACU-he’s the best athlete we’ll see here in quite some time. But why?
First, he’s strong. Manning stands at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, and has a maximum bench-press of 405 pounds-405 pounds! That’s like two Jareds pre-Subway!
Second, he’s lightning-quick. Last time he was timed in the 40-yard dash, Manning clocked in at 4.32. If you’re wondering just how fast that is, fleet-footed University of Texas quarterback Vince Young runs a 4.4. Ever heard of Mike Vick? He ran a 4.33 at Virginia Tech.
But what truly makes Manning our school’s top athlete is his work ethic. Ever since he left the University of Nebraska two seasons ago, Manning knew he would have to work super hard at ACU-a Division II school-to get noticed for his ultimate goal: playing in the National Football League.
“That’s the dream right there,” he says.
So now, in the offseason, Manning runs wind sprints every day except Monday to improve his speed and tries to never miss a rep when he’s lifting weights, all with the hope of adding muscle weight but keeping his quickness.
During the 2003 season, Manning never missed practice.
“People tell me, ‘you don’t need to practice as hard as you do,'” he says, shaking his head. “Nah; I wouldn’t be half as good without hard work.”
Manning’s strength and conditioning coach, David Hess, told the all-around athlete he has a good shot at leaving school early for the NFL. Manning likes the idea but said he won’t dwell on it.
“If that’s the opportunity I get, then great,” he said. “But I’m just gonna keep riding until the wheels come off.”
Keep riding, Danieal. ACU could stand to have its top athlete around at least a few more years.