Former Northwest Missouri State defensive back Travis Manning has put up ridiculous numbers from the moment he stepped onto the field as a freshman.
After redshirting in 2009 and receiving a medical redshirt in 2010, he quickly bounced back from the adversity racking up 43 tackles and two interceptions in 2011. The following three years as a Bearcat he did not disappoint, tallying 142 tackles and eight more picks.
Despite the illustrious numbers, Manning had trouble turning heads his direction as he never earned anything better than second team All-MIAA. After Friday’s pro day at Missouri Western’s indoor facilities, the wait is over. He has NFL organizations full attention.
“They all say I’m really athletic and I definitely got a shot to play at the next level just based on my athleticism,” Manning said. “They want to get me to some places and do some workouts. It’ll be a pretty neat deal. We’ll see what happens now … I talked to the St. Louis scout and he was like ‘a lot of guys don’t know about you so I want to talk to you early’ and he said after today to 'expect some calls because you really turned some heads today.’”
The Rams scout was not the only one pulling Manning aside. Kansas City, St. Louis, New England, Green Bay, Seattle, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Philadelphia, Washington, Arizona and both New York teams were there to watch Manning open the workout with a blazing unofficial time of 4.44 in the 40. That time would have been good enough for fourth at the 2015 NFL Combine at his position. He also recorded an 11-foot-3-inch standing broad jump measurement. Promptly after the workouts, the Rams invited him to a personal workout in their facilities, according to Manning. He also said some other teams wanted to talk to him about similar opportunities.
Upon his December graduation, Manning moved to Dallas, Texas where he would train at 4th and Inches Sports Performance. His goal there was to gain size, while at the same time maintaining his speed. He clearly accomplished that, weighing in at 196 pounds and benching 225 15 times Friday. Before the move to Texas, he weighed 185 and could only rep out the bench press five times.
While Manning came away from the experience more than satisfied, he believes the scouts could simply turn on the film to see that he is more than just a fast 40 guy.
“I feel like I was a pretty good player at my level,” Manning said. “I definitely have some things to work on as far as back-peddling and little things like that, but I’m not going to brag about my on the field. I felt like I can play at the next level. I’ll put it like that. I feel like there is no receiver or whoever that I couldn’t at least compete with at the next level, if not do really well against. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t think I could and I feel like my play speaks for itself.”
Manning was not the only Bearcat raising draft stocks Friday. Former National Defensive Player of the Year Matt Longacre and All-American Eric Reimer also displayed their improved skill sets.
However, there were more than three Bearcats in attendance. Their 2014 leading rusher running back Robert Burton III, All-MIAA wide receiver Korey Jackson, All-MIAA tight end Marcus Wright and All-American linebacker DJ Gnader all performed two 40’s, but were told to head home after not running a fast enough time. Longacre, Reimer and Manning all displayed remorse at the workouts conclusion after quickly witnessing how the NFL can be a cruel reality. It especially hit home for Manning as he worked out with Gnader and Wright the two weeks leading up to Friday.
“That kind of hurt me,” Manning said. “A lot of those guys that got cut I trained with and I saw the work they put in and I thought they deserved it as much as I did. A lot of those guys I was really close to. I really thought they were going to make it to that next step. The NFL is really cut throat. I’m sure they still have other opportunities. They’re great players. This isn’t the end of the road for them. I hope and wish them the best as far as workouts and this process on.”
Punter Kyle Goodburn also put his kicking skills on display, which resulted in four of eight Bearcats making it to the end of the workout. Northwest’s team trainer, Joe Quinlin clocked Jackson running a 4.42, which prompted people to wonder what exactly they were expecting out of the athletes. Those are just four of roughly 30 athletes that were cut, leaving the scouts with six athletes remaining.
Reimer, who recorded 229 tackles, including 29 for a loss and nine sacks in his decorated career has spent the last three months in his hometown of Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin working out at Next Level. His trainer Brad Arnett has trained the likes of the 2014 NFL Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt. He said he did not get a chance to mingle with the NFL athletes training there but he learned from them by watching.
“You just see those guys working hard everyday though,” Reimer said. “That’s what it takes. Those guys aren’t going in there messing around. They’re doing what they’re suppose to do.”
Reimer said it was time well spent after posting 40 times in the 4.5-6 range. He also repped out 225 21 times on the bench press. Most of his time training was not so much spent on football specific workouts, but the L, three-cone, pro-agility and jumping drills he would have to do in the pro day. He says the way your arms move, the first 10 yards in the 40 and learning other techniques provide you with a lot more to learn than what meets the eye. He was just satisfied after posting a time of 4.9 in the 40 at last year’s junior day.
“I think I had it in me last spring,” Reimer said. “It’s just the fact that I’ve been training for this for three months now ... I think that was a big opportunity today that I showed could run a 4.5 or 4.6 and that I do have the speed to play at the next level. It’s good not to have the 4.9 behind my name, but a 4.5. It sounds a little bit better.”
Longacre is facing what could prove to be a tougher road to the show as he may be asked to change positions. He started the last three years for the Bearcats registering 148 tackles, 40 for a loss, 18 sacks and National Defensive Player of the Year twice as a defensive end in that span. Despite that, his 260 pound frame has scouts telling him linebacker may be the position for him.
“I’m open to whatever,” Longacre said. “It don’t matter to me at all. They tell me to do something and I’m going to work on it and try to be the best at it. You tell me where to line up and I’m going to line up … Once you start doing it you get used to it. Over time it will be second nature like my steps with the D-Line. You just need more work on it.”
Northwest’s defense never calls for the linemen to drop into coverage, so Longacre had not back peddled ever in his life until a month ago. He said Manning has showed him the ropes of a defensive secondary throughout the past couple weeks.
Longacre used his slimmer stature to run a 4.75 40, which would put him right in the middle of the pack compared to the linebackers at the combine, but if he were timed as defensive linemen it would have been fifth-best. He showed off his new skillset as he appeared defensive coverage drills, but he also maintained his linemen strength, bench pressing 225 22 times.
Despite learning a whole new position, he said he was most nervous about the 40, given what happen to his former teammates. He could not fathom the thought of putting three months worth of preparation for one day, and getting cut from the workout after 10 minutes.
“Honestly, today it wasn’t (nerve racking), ”Longacre said. “Last night it was. We were talking last night and I hadn’t been really nervous for football in three years probably, my redshirt freshman year … But today you show up and they tell you how it is and you just accept it and you know what you have to do, so it’s not really worth being nervous.
“That’s really the only one I was nervous about was the 40 just because, you saw what happened. A lot of guys got cut that put in a lot of time. You don’t want to be one of those, so you put a lot of emphasis on the 40.”
No matter how many Northwest athletes finished the workout, they were easily the most represented team in St. Joe. As Reimer is attempting to follow in the same footsteps as Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brandon Dixon, New Orleans Saints cornerback Brian Dixon, former Jets tight end Josh Baker and former Super Bowl Champion Dave Tollefson, it caused him to reflect on the current state of the Northwest football program.
“It just shows what kind of coaches we have, what kind of players we recruit, the strength and conditioning program we have that we go through for four years,” Reimer said. “You come out a lot better from it. The team is a lot better. Obviously football is not all about the pro-agility and the L-drill, but when you go through the drills like that and you’re trying to change direction and reaction, all that stuff comes down to playing football and reacting on the field.”