BOGACZYK: McManus Wants to Build on Rookie Season
The Word on the Herd-April 9, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Eight months ago, as Marshall began August camp prior to its first Conference USA championship football season, Deon-Tay McManus felt kind of lost.
With 242-pound Devon Johnson having just been moved to running back from tight end, the Herd needed depth at Johnson's former position -- and because McManus was about 230 pounds, he fit the profile among the wide receivers.
That was then. What's now is that McManus finds himself running with the "ones" at wideout on the play side, also known as the Z receiver.
And why not? The redshirt sophomore emerged back at outside receiver in the Herd's 2014 C-USA opener at Old Dominion, and by season's end he lead all six Marshall outside receivers in receptions -- and those catches included the title-game clincher in a comeback win over Louisiana Tech.
"That tight end thing wasn't for me," the 6-foot-2, 228-pound McManus said after a recent Herd spring practice. "But I mean, everything happens for a reason, so they put me there and I tried to give 110 percent. Davonte Allen went down with an injury (in a Week 4 win at Akron) and they called my number and I just tried to make plays like I always did."
Through four games, McManus had no statistics. Allen's broken collarbone suffered at Akron gave McManus an opportunity and he seized it, finishing the season with 26 receptions for 422 yards and six touchdowns.
The Baltimore native's coming-out party was a five-catch day for 55 yards and a TD in a romp at ODU.
"It's way easier now than it was before last season," McManus said. "I'm comfortable. I know what I'm doing. I'm more of a leader now. I'm more of a vet. I'm a guy the young receivers can look up to, and I try to be more like a big brother.
"It's easier, too, because the game has slowed down for me. I'm more experienced, so I'm out here just playing football now."
Allen is back at the X receiver spot for his senior season, and Coach Doc Holliday and Co. are now trying redshirt sophomore Angelo Jean-Louis -- he had 21 catches for 490 yards and six scores as a rookie -- at slot receiver with sophomore Hyleck Foster. Tommy Shuler had three stellar seasons at that Y spot before his Herd days ended last season.
"So far this spring, it's so far, so good," McManus said. "We accomplished a lot (last season) but this is a new team, and so far we're out here trying to get our rhythm down, our new identity. We're coming together, trying to get this (search for a new) quarterback situation and receivers on the same page.
"It's just a whole new team, so we'll be trying to put all of the pieces together and try to have a better team than we had last year, keep taking care of business."
Mike Furrey, the Herd's third-year receivers coach and former NFL receiver, likes what he sees this spring from McManus.
"He's improved," Furrey said. "I think he brings us that physical attribute. When you're 6-2, 225, 235, can run, and he has a great catch radius. So, he's a guy who is a pretty big target for a quarterback. He loves to play the game, loves to compete, and he's hungry. He's picked up pretty well what we do offensively, and he's got a lot of things going on right now that are good to see.
"Now, we don't really know until we line up against Purdue (the Sept. 6 season opener at Edwards Stadium), but I like the direction Deon-Tay's heading right now and really the ownership he's taken. It's like, `Now I'm a wideout and I want to be the best I can possibly be,' and he's kind of the adult in the room.
"He's not a true `freshman freshman' going into a true sophomore year. He's a 21-year-old kid -- man, really -- and there are a lot of things in that demeanor that I really like and I'm glad to have in that room."
McManus' numbers helped the 2014 Herd place among the top freshman pass-catching performances in major college football. McManus, Jean-Louis, Foster and tight end Ryan Yurachek combined for 17 touchdowns, which tied College Football Playoff runner-up Oregon for tops in the nation. The Herd ranked fifth in yardage (1,315) and 13th in freshman catches, with 82.
"Last season, a lot of balls went to Shuler (110, 106 and 92 in his last three years) because of the type of player he was and the kind of chemistry he and (quarterback Rakeem) Cato had back to when they were (growing up) in Miami," McManus said.
"But now, everybody can touch the ball. It's not just one person getting the ball most of the time. My mindset is what everybody's mindset is among the receivers -- we just want to make a lot of plays."
McManus said this spring is different for all of the receivers because Cato is gone after four years as a starter, and Gunnar Holcombe, Michael Birdsong, Cole Garvin and Chase Litton are sharing reps so far while competing for the starting job and ultimately, the QB pecking order.
"Patience is a key for us at receiver, I think," McManus said. "We're so used to Cato, and what we have to understand as receivers is Cato was in the system for four years, and starting, and these are new quarterbacks so it's going to take a little more time.
"So the key for us at receiver is just having patience, and knowing that everything will come together at the end of the day."
His 5-yard reception of a Cato pass with 1:50 to go in the Dec. 5 title game gave the Herd its final lead for its first C-USA crown, but he said some big plays and his numbers once he became a regular weren't all his rookie season was about.
"The biggest thing I learned last season -- and what I'm trying to do now -- is just bring the intensity and effort every day," McManus said. "Bring that 110 percent to practice. It starts in practice, not on Saturdays."
It started for McManus when he went back outside.