Nov. 5, 2012
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Thursday night's game at Virginia Tech will be a homecoming with two meanings for No. 6/8 Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel.
Not only will the important Atlantic Coast Conference showdown in Blacksburg, Va. be Manuel's first game in his home state since high school but it will also be his last there as a college player. The Virginia Beach, Va. native decided to leave home to play football more than five years ago but has never had the chance to lead his Seminoles (8-1, 5-1 ACC) into familiar but enemy territory.
"Being my last opportunity to play a Virginia school in college I definitely want to get a 'W,'" Manuel said Monday at his weekly press conference. "It's going to be a hostile environment. I know it's going to be chilly. It's going to be like playing back in high school. It's going to be a great atmosphere and I'm looking forward to it."
Had it not been for former Hokies quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Manuel may have never left.
Virginia Tech -- along with many of the other big-name college football programs across the country -- recruited Manuel, a 2008 prospect out of Bayside High School, but the Hokies had signed the five-star Taylor from nearby Hampton, Va. the year before. With Taylor set to be Virginia Tech's quarterback of the future, Manuel decided to eliminate the Hokies from consideration in his recruitment.
"It wasn't anything other than that," Manuel said. "It's a great program, Coach [Frank] Beamer is a great coach and that pretty much is the main reason."
Highly touted quarterbacks from Manuel's area are nothing new.
Manuel, Taylor, Michael and Marcus Vick, and Ronald Curry are just a few of the bigger-name signal callers from that part of the state but elite athleticism isn't restricted to just quarterbacks and football players.
"If you really research it, the number athletes period," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "That Norfolk area, that Virginia Beach area, that whole area, that's one of the most productive areas in America in all sports. You go back to [Allen] Iverson, Alonzo Mourning, I mean you go back to the quarterbacks there, you go to Plaxico Burress, you go to Lawrence Taylor, you go to Dwight Stephenson.
"I mean the history of ball for a long time now that area has been as productive and has tremendous athletes [in that] whole surrounding area. Great, great competition in all sports."
Manuel is expecting his own great competition Thursday night despite Virginia Tech's uncharacteristic struggles this season.
The Hokies (4-5, 2-3) -- a dark-horse national title contender in the pre-season -- all but eliminated themselves from the ACC's Coastal Division race with a loss at Miami last week but still boast playmakers across their roster.
They also have something the Seminoles will not have when the opening kick sails down field at 8 p.m. live on ESPN: a loud and rowdy home crowd.
"I have never been to a game there but it's a great stadium, great fans and everybody in Blacksburg and the surrounding area loves Virginia Tech because that's pretty much all they have," Manuel said. "They might be Redskins fans too but I know they love VT. It's going to be crazy. They are going to hate us, I know that. They are going to hate me being that I am from Virginia and I came here. I already know what to expect.
"They're not going to like me very much, but that's fine," Manuel added. "We've just got to go out there and play."