April 26, 2011
By Jerry Kutz, Seminole Boosters
You may know that Florida State's quarterback EJ Manuel was a high school Parade All American but there's something that you might not know
Manuel loves to meet fans, from FSU students, to kids wanting autographs, to community centers looking for a mentor. You name it, Manuel volunteers for it, and genuinely enjoys doing it.
"A lot of people don't get to know us as people," Manuel explained. "They don't realize that we are like them. We get to know them and they get to know us and that makes games even more important because we know they are there supporting us."
"EJ has been an active member of the Seminole Student Boosters since he arrived because he wants to be friends with other students who then want to comes see their friend EJ play," Seminole Student Boosters president Nikki Ticknor said. "Lonnie Pryor and Dustin Hopkins and Bert Reed feel the same. A lot of guys on this team want to have a connection with the community."
"It's a team thing," Manuel continued. "This team is playing for the university and for the fans who want to see us do well. It's more important to play for a community than to play for yourself."
Manuel's connection to the community began a while ago.
"I learned the importance of giving back when I was a kid," Manuel said. "My dad grew up with Bruce Smith, who was an All-Pro defensive end and has been a mentor to me since. He took time when he didn't have to, and that went a long way for me. He taught me that taking 10 to 15 minutes out of your day isn't much and it goes a long way for those kids. He still mentors me, teaching me that athletics can be good to you one day and not the next so be polite and respectful to people. Take the time to say hi to somebody."
Another influence is FSU coach Jimbo Fisher.
"Coach talks to us all the time about representing the brand," Manuel said. "He tells us, `You are not just representing yourself, you are representing FSU and the community. All eyes are on us. You need to do right.'"
Manuel said he and defensive back Avis Commack learned the power of those eyes on an elementary school field trip.
"Avis and I had the day of our life," Manuel said. "You should have seen the look on their faces. We're just college athletes, but you would have thought we were the President of the United States. It brought a lot of joy to our heart."
Fisher's insistence on respecting the FSU brand resonates.
"I grew up in Virginia where we watched Florida State, Miami and Florida on television." Manuel said. "I chose FSU because I wanted to become part of the legacy. Wearing that spear on your helmet is special to me and to guys like Dustin Hopkins, Lonnie Pryor and a lot of my teammates. Getting to be the quarterback of a team like that, with all the fan support, is dream come true."
The players feel the community support.
"People have given their support whether we did good or not," Manuel said. "They don't have to come out of their way to encourage us but they do and that makes game day better."
Manuel loves playing before a sold out crowd, something that could well happen if ticket sales remain brisk into a September contest against top-ranked Oklahoma.
"Coming into a full stadium makes a difference," Manuel said. "Opponents are intimidated to come to FSU, but when it's full it's a lot more difficult. When we have our fans in Doak it goes a long way."
Manuel says the crowd inspires FSU players too.
"I love the crowd so when you are tired, and even when you are hurt, you know you have people watching you so you want to bounce back up and make another play," he said.
His coach won't have it any other way.
"Coach Fisher is very intense; very serious on the field," Manuel said. "He is a competitive person and so am I. He is a really nice person off the field too, very friendly, and I like that. Everyone see the nice side of Jimbo and I, but when we strap on our helmet, it's all about business."