Beavers QB ready to lead team out of doldrums
Described by coach Mike Riley as a ''gym rat,'' Mannion strives to set an example as the Beavers prepare to put last season's disaster behind them. That means work, the sophomore QB maintains.
''It's something that we pride ourselves on. We want to do the best at all the things we can control, and that starts with hard work,'' he said. ''All the stuff in the summer, all the stuff we do in the film room, everything we do on the side on our own - that's something we want to be part of our identity. And I think we're on the way to doing that.''
Last season started with a loss to lower-division Sacramento State and went downhill from there. The Beavers finished with a 3-9 overall record, out of postseason for the second straight season. Mannion was thrown into the fire as a redshirt freshman when he unseated Ryan Katz as the team's starter.
Understandably he had growing pains. While Mannion finished with 3,332 yards passing (third most in school history) and 16 touchdowns, he also threw 18 interceptions.
But along the way, Mannion earned the confidence of his teammates, and at the end of the season he was voted most improved player by the team along with defensive end Scott Crichton.
''He's been an interesting guy ... the minute that season was over he was on the film and out throwing with these guys early on. They all got together and kept doing that,'' Riley said. ''I know they started it in the summertime again. So if work ethic and desire plus talent have anything to do with improving, then he's showed all the ingredients to take a good jump.''
This year Mannion is one of four team captains.
''I would say I'm just a guy who wants to do whatever the team asks of him. I try to be someone who can do all the little things well, someone who can kind of direct the other players on the field if they need help, someone with good knowledge of the offense,'' Mannion said. ''Those are the kind of things - all of the little things add up to make a big difference - and I think that's really what I would like to be.''
At 6-foot-5 and 218 pounds, Mannion is a classic drop-back passer with a calm demeanor and a good grasp of the fundamentals, the product of growing up the son of a high school coach.
Last season, Riley replaced Katz, a junior who had started for the entire 2010 season, at halftime of the team's opening loss against the Hornets. Katz started the next game, but came out after one series and the job was Mannion's the rest of the way.
''I'm continuing to learn, that's the main thing. Continuing to get more accurate,'' Mannion said. ''I feel like I've taken a lot of strides in those areas. I feel at this point the game is slowing down for me. With the year's experience, the game is much slower that it was a year ago.''
The Beavers open on Saturday against Nicholls State, a game that is already drawing attention because of Hurricane Isaac. The Thibodaux, La., campus suspended operations through Wednesday, including football practice for the Colonels.
Nicholls coach Charlie Stubbs said he hopes damage from Isaac will be minimal enough to allow the team to practice on Thursday before the scheduled flight out of New Orleans on Friday.
Mannion said the Beavers hope to embark on a new chapter on Saturday. The opener is not so much about Nicholls State as it is about the Beavers.
''Just wanting to be successful is our motivation. Last year is something we don't want to re-do. We absolutely have to put it behind us,'' Mannion said. ''At this point all we're focused on is our first game against Nicholls State and we're not looking back any more, we're looking forward to a new season and we're all really excited about it.''