Sept. 27, 2012
By Scott Kotick (@ScottKotick), Seminoles.com
Every Florida State football legend has had that moment where they move from good to great and become a household name.
The big play, the game defining moment, it defines their career as a Seminole.
EJ Manuel has had many to choose from throughout his career. Yet what will define him for years to come was not a long run, a touchdown, or anything on the field. It was a halftime speech.
"We were down seven points, and he just told us to stay focused and keep going," Lonnie Pryor said. "He made a big speech before the game started and he's stepping up as a leader and being that guy we know he is."
"It wasn't just 'ra-ra,'" James Wilder, Jr. said. "A lot of people just talk and don't really walk the walk, and but he definitely talked the talk and walked the walk."
"He didn't used to do that in the past, he would just sit down and focus on what he needed to do," Chris Thompson said. "But now he's more vocal and expects the best out of us."
"I can look at my own guys' eyes and can see that they're ready to go," EJ Manuel said. "Those are guys I see day in and day out, and it's awesome because we take what we see in practice right onto the game field. It's not a secret potion that we've changed, we just work hard."
What happened after halftime was EJ being EJ. Every play and every touchdown was just a product of his leadership. The team rallied around him, and EJ took his place among the Seminole greats this past Saturday.
What made it even better is that he became the first Seminole quarterback since a certain guy named Charlie in 1993 to pass for more than 300 yards and rush for more than 100 yards in a game.
That's pretty nice company, not because of the stats, but because of how it effected his teammates.
"As you gain confidence, then your natural abilities really start to come out," head coach Jimbo Fisher said. "I think it's him being really focused and dialed in, handling big situations and he's grown immensely in that regard.
"He's the heart and soul of the team, so where he goes, we go," Rodney Smith said. "It's a good thing that we have a great leader in him, because he makes us all want to work hard. He's a hard working guy, so when I see him working hard, it makes me want to go harder too."
"He keeps everyone calm and focused, especially when we're out there on the field," Pryor said. "We had a couple of false starts, and he just told us to calm down and that we're still in this. He's a great leader and I'm proud of the game he had the other day."
Every chance he had to run the ball, his teammates were there. Laying blocks, getting him to the outside, and opening up the passing game so Manuel could do what he does best.
And like every great quarterback, he knows everything starts up front.
"It's knowing that you have that physicality on your side, because it's football and you want to be known as a physical team that can bruise you," Manuel said. "Run the ball down your throat, and when they come up and put eight people in the box, throwing the ball over their head. It poses a threat to a lot of defenses we play."
"I thought we did a much better job on the perimeter and we're getting those downfield blocks," Fisher said. "Those runs allowing those back to get out, receivers, tight ends. I thought Nick O'Leary had a great blocking game, he had some nice cuts on the edge and did a real nice job."
"We never want our quarterback to get hit, and that's something we take pride in," Thompson said. "The coaches make sure we take pride in it, especially coach (Eddie) Gran. He tells us that one of his top rules is to protect the quarterback."
The team has grown just as Manuel has grown. He's got the ability to see past the last few seasons and understand the direction his team is headed.
"We've come a long way since last year, and I think we're a completely different team compared to last year even though we didn't play USF," Manuel said. "I've never been the kind of guy to look at last year. This is a whole new team, a whole new week, and this upcoming game is going to be a new game. We just have to out there and handle business."
A great leader understands there's more than just the old phrase "actions speak louder than words." Manuel's words to his team carry weight and he turns those into great results on the field. Now that's a leader Seminole fans will remember for years to come.