Manning's Versatility Shines Through At Ooltewah

Senior Plays All Over The Field All Of The Time

Wednesday, September 13, 2017 - by Larry Fleming
Ooltewah senior Andrew Manning rarely comes off the field on Friday night during Owls football games. He plays offense and defense and is on various special teams units. Also, he's the team's back-up quarterback. He has accounted for more than half of Ooltewah's receiving yards this season.
Ooltewah senior Andrew Manning rarely comes off the field on Friday night during Owls football games. He plays offense and defense and is on various special teams units. Also, he's the team's back-up quarterback. He has accounted for more than half of Ooltewah's receiving yards this season.
- photo by Dennis Norwood

After a 15-hour Friday, capped by an energy-sapping high school football game, Ooltewah’s Andrew Manning is at the end of his rope.

“I’m done,” Manning said. “I go eat with my family, go home and go straight to bed.”

Most area players feel the same as Manning, but few go through the grind to reach 10:30 p.

m. on Friday’s throughout the high school football season that he does.

The long school hours simply take Manning to the threshold of the toughest part of his day – the 48 gridiron grind minutes of hitting, being hit, running and gutting out a hoped-for victory on the field.

And what Manning, a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior, does on the field for the better part of 3 hours, is truly captivating and for Owls football fans literally endearing.

Manning is the lone Ooltewah player playing full-time on defense and offense this season. Cam Chambers pulls double-duty occasionally, but not to the extent of Manning, a starting wide receiver and free safety.

Additionally, Manning is the holder for field goals and extra points, a member of the kickoff and punt return teams, punt-block team, and last week added the long-snapper job to his laundry list of things to do during the course of a game.

And, he’s the backup to quarterback Kyrell Sanford.

“Last week,” Owls coach Mac Bryan says, “our snapper had a mild concussion and was out. Andrew didn’t ask us to do it. Doug (Greene, defensive coordinator who spends time with special teams) said, ‘Andrew can do it.’ I said, ‘OK.’ Andrew goes out there and performs perfectly.”

Manning’s move to free safety was also due to a teammate’s injury – T.J. Taylor was hurt in preseason and likely will miss the season.

About the only thing Manning hasn’t been asked to do is play offensive tackle or drive the team bus to Maryville on Friday where the Owls (2-2, 0-1) play William Blount (0-4, 0-2) in a Region 2-6A contest.

“We know he can’t snap the ball, get back there to catch it and then punt it,” Bryan said. “He doesn’t meet the Hamilton County standard on age to drive the bus. What he can do is about anything else we ask him to do. It’s just a matter of not overloading him.”

Seemingly always included in the quarterback conversation during the last three years, Manning was never given job as the Owls’ starting signal caller.

Bryan could ill afford diminishing Manning’s remarkable versatility.

Manning has been compared to former Owl Rashun Freeman, who was a two-way monster in 2015 while helping Ooltewah to a 10-3 season that ended with a loss to Rhea County in the Class 5A state quarterfinals.

Greene said: “He’s right up there near the top with Rashun in terms of versatility. Kids that play safety here are traditionally those type players anyway. Darian Delaney is another one of those guys. I had a kid at Riverdale, Ted Montgomery, who played safety, receiver and returned kicks. He was fantastic athlete and ended up playing some at Middle Tennessee State.”

Asked for a nutshell description of Manning, Greene said: “He’s a guy that can make plays.”

In four games, Manning, also an infielder for coach Brian Hitchcox’s baseball team, has caught 19 passes for 516 yards – more than half the team’s total of 938 – and four touchdowns

He is coming off a six-catch, 216-yard and one TD effort in the Owls’ 47-0 thrashing of East Hamilton. The week before, Manning grabbed five balls for 144 yards and two scores in a 42-35 loss against Bradley Central.

Defensively, Manning has recorded 17 tackles with one interception a pass break-up.

“I knew I was going to be playing both sides of the ball and be on some special teams,” Manning said, “but I never thought it would go this far where I’m making plays all over the field.

“I’m stoked at what I’ve been able to do. I love being on the field as much as possible. It’s really exciting.”

When asked if he preferred to play offense or defense, Manning said: “My favorite place is to be where I can make a play.”

Sanford, a junior and first non-senior to start in Bryan’s four-plus seasons, has developed a stunning chemistry with Manning in just four games. Manning has caught 19 of Sanford’s 45 completions for 516 of the signal caller’s 878 yards and four of nine TD tosses.

“Pretty much Andrew is our go-to wide receiver,” Sanford said. “We’ve always focused on our ‘W’ receiver, but it has become our ‘X’ receiver this year because of Andrew. We got on the same page early and so far it’s worked out pretty good.”

Even when a play breaks down, Sanford and Manning can salvage it by both scrambling to find throwing room and open space in the secondary.

“Every play coach Bryan calls doesn’t always work out the way it’s called,” Sanford said. “Sometimes I have to roll out and if I scramble he’ll move around the field and I end up throwing the ball to him. It’s something where if I feel it, he feels it and we end up connecting and there you go.”

Even on routine plays, where scrambling is not called for, some of Sanford’s biggest passing plays have Manning on the receiving end. Many come underneath the coverage and Manning makes a quick more or two and is off to the races.

Against Bradley, Manning had a 68-yard TD reception. In the East Hamilton rout, Manning had a 69-yard touchdown grab, set up Sincere Quinn’s short TD run with a 51-yard catch and was caught from behind on a 51-yard gainer to the Hurricanes’ 3 as the first half ended.

In the Owls’ four games, Manning has averaged 21, 18, 29 and 36 yards per reception. Eleven catches, 360 yards and three touchdowns have come in the last two contests.

One key reason Bryan never reached the point of making Manning the starting quarterback is he never wanted to limit his multiple ways to help the team.

“The big point about that is if we ever put him at quarterback, we wouldn’t have him for defense and I would never do that,” Bryan said. “To do that you would take away his versatility that helps the entire team.

“He has the knack for doing a variety of things – really good hands and a lot of football savvy. Rashun Freeman was a lot like that. Rashun played receiver his junior year, running back senior year and started as a DB three years while returning kickoffs and punts. We’re talking about pretty much the same type guy. Both of them have high football IQs.”

The football intelligence factor has never escaped Greene’s attention.

“There are a lot of tweaks we build into our defense that we can get done by just telling the safety,” the veteran coach said. “We don’t have to tell everybody else. In that situation, Andrew becomes an extension of my brain.”

Greene began using Manning, who is blessed with excellent speed, in the secondary in 2016 when he then-junior broke a finger, which restricted his time at receiver.

“He couldn’t catch the ball,” Greene said. “I think it was the Erwin (North Carolina) game he ended up getting an interception with a one-handed catch. So, we built a package around him.”

And what a package Manning has become.

(Contact Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com and on Twitter @larryfleming44)

Andrew Manning has been a workhorse for Ooltewah's football team this season. Manning has caught 19 passes for 516 yards and four touchdowns while recording 17 tackles and one interception for the Owls' defense. Against East Hamilton last week Manning had three catches of 50-plus yards, one for a TD.
Andrew Manning has been a workhorse for Ooltewah's football team this season. Manning has caught 19 passes for 516 yards and four touchdowns while recording 17 tackles and one interception for the Owls' defense. Against East Hamilton last week Manning had three catches of 50-plus yards, one for a TD.
- Photo2 by Dennis Norwood


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