BOGACZYK: Strength at Receiver? ‘Tay’ Has a Way
The Word on the Herd-Aug. 16, 2015
By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – You’ve heard of the phrase “a wolf in sheep’s clothing?”
How about “a wide receiver in linebacker’s clothing?”
Well, Marshall’s 2015 football team has one of the latter.
And when Coach Doc Holliday talks about a player’s performance living up to his measurables? If this guy does that, he’ll be an All-Conference USA lock.
The top five Herd players in weightlifting during summer testing included three offensive linemen -- Ryan Riedel, Sebastian Johansson and Nate Devers – plus defensive end Gary Thompson and … redshirt sophomore wide receiver Deon-Tay McManus.
The Herd wideout has drawn some national attention, too. A recent NFL.com story on college football’s strongest players in 2015 – and impact at their position -- listed McManus at No. 4, behind defensive linemen at Baylor and Tennessee and a Missouri offensive lineman.
When Marshall strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair created the Iron Herd Football Club this winter to help create more intrasquad competition in offseason training, the only player who could reach or exceed the standards for his weight last spring was McManus. By last month, five teammates joined McManus.
His 1,300 pounds lifted – bench (405), squat (565) and power clean (330) combined – tops every Herd linebacker and tight end. The only player at those positions within 100 pounds of McManus’ effort is senior linebacker Evan McKelvey, who did 1,280 pounds.
McManus added 100 pounds to his Dunfee Weight Room testing performance from July 2014.
“Like the NFL article said, ‘Tay’ is one of the strongest players in college football,” Marshall senior linebacker D.J. Hunter said. “He’s one of the strongest players on our team, no matter the position. He brings a whole lot to the table.
“He’s a bigger receiver – really, a biggest receiver – and he’s faster. And add to that, he’s physical. He’s going to be a tough matchup for anyone who goes against him, so you’ve just got to bring it every time because he’s a big, physical guy.”
The 6-foot-1, 228-pound McManus is the Herd’s starter at Z receiver, where he emerged one month into last season after a move from tight end. He might be built like a tight end, but he’s not a tight end. “I was uncomfortable at tight end,” McManus said after a recent Herd camp practice. “I really felt out of place. I’d played receiver all my life so once I moved back outside (in Week 5, at Old Dominion after a collarbone injury to Davonte Allen two weeks earlier at Akron), it was like second nature. I just played normally, how I always played.”
McManus, from Baltimore, caught 26 passes in the final 10 games for 422 yards and six touchdowns. His 5-yard scoring reception from Rakeem Cato with 1:50 left in the Conference USA Championship Game last December lifted the Herd to a 26-23 win over visiting Louisiana Tech. He also had a 27-yard TD catch in Marshall’s Boca Raton Bowl romp past Northern Illinois.
Now, McManus, 21, is a year older, as well as stronger and faster and more attuned to what Herd receivers coach Mike Furrey and offensive coordinator Bill Legg want from him.
It’s a different degree of difficulty for a covering cornerback.
I was just telling somebody the other day … They asked me who was the hardest receiver I ever covered and I told them (former Herd star Aaron) Dobson and McManus,” said MU senior Keith Baxter, who goes against McManus daily in practice and is another one of those six Iron Herd Club achievers. “With McManus, you have to be very strong, be physical with him because he uses his body a lot.
“That kid’s going to be a great receiver for this program before he’s finished here. I like going up against him because you want to be challenged – and you know with him it’s going to be a challenge.” McManus did 23 in the pro bench testing (reps at 225 pounds) matching the 2015 NFL Combine number of the strongest measured receiver, Sammie Coates of the Pittsburgh Steelers, by way of Auburn.
“It’s all about working hard,” McManus said. “In the weight room, I try to go 10 times harder because I know when I get on the field it’s going to be easier on me, working against DBs, getting open. I don’t take the weight room for granted like some people do.
“It’s important. It translates out here on the field. I go in there with a purpose and try to go 10 times harder than others. Besides, if you go hard in the weight room, build your muscle, you’re going to prevent injuries, too.”
McManus starred at Dunbar High School in Baltimore before a prep-school stop at Atlanta Sports Academy. After sitting out a season for academics following his Marshall arrival, he found his niche after that position move in late September last season.
“Dunbar was one of first schools I know of that really pushed the weight room,” McManus said. “It was important there, and I liked working out. That set the tone. If anything, we had to be in there and work hard, run a lot, and that’s because they were trying to get us ready for the college level.
“I wasn’t big physically coming out of high school (210 pounds), but coming to college I knew I needed to get way bigger and stronger to play the way I wanted to play.”
McManus was among four Herd pass catchers in 2014 that shared the FBS lead for touchdown receptions by freshmen (with Oregon, at 17). The quarter produced 1,305 yards, which ranked No. 5 among major college freshman classes.
He’s also the team’s top returning receiver in catches and touchdowns, with Allen – Marshall’s starter at X receiver – back as the top returning yardage man, with 544.
So, once the Herd opens the 2015 season on Sept. 6 against Purdue at Edwards Stadium, what does McManus see as his main ingredient in providing an open window for new QB Michael Birdsong? Strength? Speed?
“Me, I’m stressing speed,” said McManus, whose 10-yard “burst” time this summer was 1.58 seconds to go with a 34-inch vertical leap. “I’m one of those big physical guys – and I can use strength – but I look at it as I don’t play with the DB at all. I just want to use my God-given talent.
“I’ve got speed and I’ve got the strength. I’m not trying to finesse it like a little receiver would. I’m just playing big as a big receiver can. It’s speed first, then at the top of the route -- if it gets a little tougher at the top of that route -- that’s where my physical ability will come in.”