EJ Manuel Looks to Leave his Legacy
By Carlos Pineda
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Manuel led the Seminoles to wins in the 2009 Gator Bowl, 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl and the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Florida State's EJ Manuel will make his final collegiate start Tuesday night in the Orange Bowl versus Northern Illinois.
Manuel's tenure in Tallahassee has been marred by criticism despite guiding the Seminoles (11-2) to their first BCS bowl game in seven years. Fans and media alike were critical after an unexpected loss to NC State all but ended FSU's bid at playing for a national championship. Then against the Florida Gators, Manuel committed four turnovers in a 37-26 loss that brought FSU's credibility into question.
It's been a turbulent senior year for Manuel and one where he kept his personal life under wraps. His mother, Jackie Manuel, was diagnosed with breast cancer a week before the season opener against Murray State and underwent her eighth and final chemotherapy on New Year's Eve in Virginia.
FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said Manuel wanted to keep it quiet to avoid making any excuses.
"I knew nobody else was going to care, to be honest with you," Manuel told ESPN.com. "People will say, sorry, and this and that, but you've still got to go out and play. I understood that. That's why I never really said anything publicly about it, because Florida State fans may say sorry, but when you're not winning games, they're still going to have things to say negatively or just be upset. They just won't be happy, just like I won't be happy. It was tough. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't. It was definitely tough, but God got me through it. I did a lot of praying and my parents did the same."
In his second season as a full-time starter, Manuel passed for 3,101 yards with 22 touchdowns and only 10 interceptions.
Perhaps his finest moment came on Sept. 22, when FSU knocked off 10th-ranked Clemson, 49-37. Manuel passed for a career-high 380 yards and 102 rushing yards, becoming only the second player to accomplish the feat since Heisman winner Charlie Ward eclipsed the 300-100 mark in 1992.
With a 24-6 record, Manuel ranks third all-time at FSU for wins and is the all-time leader in completion percentage (66.8). He helped put the Seminoles back on the national map and led them to their first ACC conference title since 2005.
So what is Manuel's legacy?
"He's a winner," offensive coordinator James Coley said. "He's a competitor. You watch him play, and the guys who played with him will tell you best...they love that guy. They'll run through the wall for him."
Although Manuel didn't become a full-time starter until last season, he was called into action several times as an underclassman when Christian Ponder was injured. In 2009, Manuel was 3-1 as a starter, including his MVP performance against West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. In 2010, he threw the winning touchdown against South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Manuel led the Seminoles to wins in the 2009 Gator Bowl, 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl and the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl. He will look to becomes the second quarterback to win four bowl games, joining West Virginia's Pat White.
Sophomore running back James Wilder says Manuel's last game will be an emotional one for the Virginia Beach, Va. native, but expects him to do his thing.
"He doesn't look at us as teammates," Wilder said, "He looks at us like brothers. He takes us all under his wing as a little brother."
2013 Orange Bowl
No. 15 Northern Illinois (12-1) vs. No. 12 Florida State (11-2)
When: Jan. 1, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: ESPN; Joe Tessitore (Play-by-Play), Matt Millen (Analyst) and Maria Taylor (Sideline)