Bears' Manus wraps hands around role

Wide receiver: More comfortable in the offense this season, the senior nicknamed `Taco' is ready to take an even bigger bite out of defenses.

Morgan State & Towson

September 03, 2004|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

This time a year ago, Morgan State wide receiver Tommy Manus was somewhat lost while playing catch-up. He had graduated during the summer from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College and had arrived about two weeks into the Bears' preseason camp. There was much to learn about the Morgan offense and his role in it.

"I started slow and kind of progressed as the season went on," Manus said.

Did he ever. By season's end, by the time Morgan State had concluded its second straight winning record after enduring 22 consecutive losing years, the Bears' offense had a go-to guy.

He's a 6-foot-5, 215-pound senior wide-out nicknamed "Taco," a soft-spoken guy who overcame a serious knee injury in high school and has the type of strength, speed, courage and hands that has led some NFL scouts to observe him working out on the school's Baltimore campus during the past month.

Manus talks like someone who is growing up fast. He acknowledges that a lax approach to academics landed him at the junior college level.

He warmed up quickly at Morgan State, where Manus averaged 14.5 yards a catch on 40 receptions, scored four touchdowns, and tied a school record with 12 catches against Savannah State on Nov. 1. And instead of going home this summer, Manus stayed at Morgan and worked on weight-training and conditioning.

"Junior college was tough, being away from home, being in the middle of nowhere. You kind of get serious with your academics, because there's really nothing else to do besides play football," said Manus, who has been timed under 4.5 seconds in the 40-yard dash and said he is able to bench-press 225 pounds 17 times.

"If you love this game, you don't want to come off the field for one play. I'm going to take my hits, and you need muscle mass to absorb them. I'm going to block linebackers. I enjoy it. At the crucial times, I want the ball."

Morgan State originally recruited Manus before he took his Kansas detour and became a JuCo All-American. Coach Donald Hill-Eley brought Manus back for another visit two years ago before his rookie year at Morgan. Hill-Eley saw an athlete bursting with potential who had conquered the injury - a cracked kneecap - that had eliminated his sophomore year at Spruce High in Dallas.

"I saw a 6-5 receiver. I said, `This ain't no taco, this is a burrito,'" said Hill-Eley, referring to the moniker that has followed Manus since he was baby, when he took voraciously to that dish. "When you have the long arms and the speed he has, when you have the intangibles he has, it's up to you to do something with that talent."

Hill-Eley said Manus will be an active chess piece in search of a mismatch in his multiple pro-set attack. Manus will line up wide to invite single coverage or draw a double-team with his height and speed, or move inside to the slot to exploit opposing linebackers or safeties with his strength.

"I can put the ball anywhere, and [Manus] is going to go get it," senior quarterback Bradshaw Littlejohn said. "I've seen him make one-handed catches, juggling sideline catches. He's going to get open. He's going to be physical. He's not afraid to go over the middle. He makes a quarterback look good."

Manus thinks he can help the Bears win their first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title in 25 years. And he hopes he can follow former Morgan tight end Visanthe Shiancoe (in his second year with the New York Giants) into the NFL.

"I think about [the NFL], but I don't want to worry too much. I want to be comfortable and relaxed, do what I can for my teammates, be a leader," he said. "Everything is behind me. The knee is a hundred percent. I've got a 2.75 [grade point average]. Nothing can stop me, besides me."

Season opener

Opponent: Bowie State (1-0)

Site: Hughes Stadium

When: Tomorrow, 6 p.m.

Radio: WEAA (88.9 FM)

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