By D.J. Picca
“We have a powerful potential in our youth, and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we may direct their power toward good ends.”  Mary McLeod Bethune
In just his third year at the helm of Kinston High School (NC), head football coach Nick Anderson knows the challenges of playing freshmen at the varsity level.
“They are generally are so immature physically and mentally that I don’t even consider it. Brian Manuel was the exception.”
A hulking 6’4″, 310-pound  man-child with Brian Clifton Manuel’s skill set and potential arrive about as often as a total lunar eclipse on the high school gridiron horizon. Runs a legit 5.2/40 yard dash. Bench presses over 300 pounds and squats over 400 pounds at just 15 years old. Perfect technique and the quick feet of an 85-pound ballerina.
“The sky is the limit for Brian. To be blessed with that kind of size and quickness at such a young age is a gift. There is nothing but upside to his potential. The fact that he is a straight-laced “Yes Sir!” “No Sir” type of kid who will do exactly what you tell him, and you see why teachers throughout the school speak so highly of him,” added Coach Anderson.
Unfortunately for Coach Anderson and the Kinston community, Brian’s days in The Old North State are numbered. While Brian was excelling in his initial track season in the shot put (finishing no less than 3rd in any competition and 3rd overall in the conference), his parents were planning a move to Maryland. Brian’s education and a football program capable of developing his innate abilities were the criteria in selecting a high school. After looking at several of the highest-rated private institutions in the DMV, Washington D.C.’s prestigious St. John’s College Prep won out, landing the services of the gifted student-athlete (3.2 GPA).
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“I am appreciative to Coach Anderson and the entire Kinston coaching and teaching staffs. They were great for Brian. We will always have fond memories of our time in North Carolina. The opportunity to further Brian’s education and football skills at a nationally acclaimed school like St. John’s is a life-changing opportunity. One that we as a family could not pass up. One that Brian fully intends to capitalize on,” Brian’s father Brian Sr. confessed.
“I was impressed with the schools I visited in Maryland, but I knew St. John’s was the place as soon as I walked through the front door on my visit. It reminded me of an Ivy League school. Everything was so picturesque, so orderly and so organized. Touring the classrooms I knew I could continue to excel academically. I want to be a mechanical engineer someday. Their math and science departments will get me ready for college. As far as football  development, I loved Coach (Joe) Patterson and the entire staff. I trust that they are going to push me, challenge me and get the best out of me the next three years, ” Brian Jr. confided.
“Obviously I was intrigued by Brian’s size and strength, but after meeting him I found him to be a humble young man who wants to capitalize on his God-given skills. He was able to meet several of the current players on his visit here and immediately fit in well in that environment. We are excited by what Brian will bring to the culture of St. John’s,” Coach Patterson told me.
Willie Mickens is the head coach of the Lenoir County Tigers travel team for football players between the ages of 12 and  14. Brian Manuel was so large and talented growing up that he started as an eleven-year old.
“Brian was a gentle giant when he arrived on the team. He was competing mainly against players two to three years older than him. And he more than held his own on both sides of the ball. By the time he left at age 14, he already resembled a full-grown man. He learned techniques at the camps he attended (JuniorRank and FBU) and started to grow into his body. Mild-mannered and polite off the field. Very aggressive on the field. He was a handful for any player who lined up across from him,” Coach Mickens recalled.
The Lenior County Tigers won four straight Coastal Carolina Youth Football League championships during Brian’s four seasons of participation.
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“I compare Brian favorably to the Jet’s 1st round pick Quinton Coples out of UNC. He’s actually bigger and stronger than Quinton was at age 15. But abilitywise, Brian has that type of next-level skill set,” the Tigers’ coach added.
Oscar Dillard ran the camp systems for JuniorRank Sports for years. His son Ryan was one of my first stories covering the  recruiting front and now is a cornerback for the University of Southern California.
“Every time Brian was at one of our camps, he impressed with his hard work and dedication. With his combination of size, speed and strength, there is no reason he won’t be a star at the high school level and beyond.”
Erik Richards is the National Scouting Director for the U.S. Army All-American Bowl. He sees the creme de la creme of middle school through high school prodigies within his Football University and their Eastbay All-Star events.
“As a 7th and 8th grader, Brian’s potential on both sides of the ball was limitless. I can see him starting at either tackle slot on the offensive line. I can see him playing the nose or defensive tackle position on defense. His technique was already that  good and it is only to going to get better in the years to come. In the right high school program, I can see him dominating.”
Off the field, Brian Manuel is in many ways your typical teen. He doesn’t turn 16 until May 31st. He values his time with friends and teammates but his greatest satisfaction comes from helping others. Brian eagerly volunteers his time at The Salvation Army where he tutors and mentors elementary through middle school-aged youngsters. He is an usher at his church and especially enjoys the monthly visit to the retirement home where he can interact and learn from the elderly.
“I may be large physically but I’m still in the mind-set of a young teenager. Being nice to everyone and helping people in general is a thrill to me. I am flattered when my peers come to me for advice,” added Brian.
“I am going to miss my friends, coaches and teammates here at Kinston.  But I look forward to the challenges that await me at St. John’s. I know I will have to work even harder inside and outside of the classroom to make all my dreams come true.”
I asked Brian to reflect on a Max Preps article from late December that listed out their Freshman All-American Team. He was listed on their 2nd team unit.
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“At first I was happy and excited. Then as I reflected, I realized I’ve never been second in anything when it comes to football. So I wasn’t satisfied. I cut out the article and pinned it up in my room. I am not full of ego, but I want to be the first player mentioned. I use that as motivation to drive me to get better. To get bigger. To get stronger.”
That is a frightening thought, especially for opponents who must line up across from Brian Clifton Manuel the next three years at St. John’s. He knows he’ll no longer be a man among boys. Talent level is going to elevate dramatically. The  competition on the line at elite schools in elite conferences is the equivalent of trench warfare. Manuel no doubt has all the tangibles and intangibles to gain national prominence as a high school tackle and become a highly coveted D1 recruit. But having the size and skill set alone will only take you so far. He realizes that. Having the drive to be the very best demands domination in the classroom, in the weight room, on the practice field and into the games on those Friday nights in the District. Only then will the true greatness he yearns be realized.