Asa’s the Man-ley: NE senior shines in switch to QB

Fol­low the lead­er: After lead­ing North­east in rush­ing as a ju­ni­or tail­back, Asa Man­ley picked up where he left off in Fri­day’s sea­son open­er, rush­ing 19 times for 187 yards and two scores. Man­ley is now the Vik­ings’ start­ing QB. KEV­IN COOK / FOR THE TIMES

Even though it was Labor Day, North­east High School’s foot­ball team had some work to do.

A few days earli­er — on Fri­day morn­ing — the Vik­ings had swal­lowed an em­in­ently bit­ter pill, a 35-34 loss at Abing­ton High School. The taste of that de­feat ruined a sea­son open­er that had seemed headed for a fest­ive cel­eb­ra­tion. 

But des­pite leads of 14-0, 22-6, 28-14 and 34-28, North­east was un­able to stop the Gal­lop­ing Ghosts’ ex­plos­ive of­fense. And so, on what is usu­ally a va­ca­tion day, the Vik­ings all met as a team to con­duct a walk-through.

The fact that no one seemed to mind is an en­cour­aging sign.

“There’s a com­mit­ment here,” said North­east seni­or Asa Man­ley, “and you can feel it. We’re all in. We have been since the end of last year.”

Man­ley said he still vividly re­calls los­ing to George Wash­ing­ton, 17-13, in last fall’s Pub­lic League AAAA semi­finals. He also re­mem­bers what he no­ticed as he left the field.

“I could tell that we left a lot out there, and that from that point on, we were go­ing to come back with more hun­ger and more drive,” Man­ley said. “I saw it in my team­mates’ faces. They were dis­ap­poin­ted but they wer­en’t fin­ished. That look is still there. We all want to do bet­ter than last year.”

In­di­vidu­ally, it was un­real­ist­ic to ex­pect Man­ley to con­trib­ute more than he did against Abing­ton, a Class AAAA squad from the Sub­urb­an One Na­tion­al Con­fer­ence with cham­pi­on­ship as­pir­a­tions.

Tak­ing over as the team’s new quar­ter­back after lead­ing the Vik­ings in rush­ing yards (812 on 160 car­ries) and touch­downs (six) as a run­ning back last year, Man­ley ac­cu­mu­lated 187 yards and two touch­downs on 19 car­ries (and scored on a pair of two-point con­ver­sion runs) and com­pleted six of nine passes for 78 yards and two more scores — both to seni­or wideout Clayton Rush.

On de­fense, Man­ley in­ter­cep­ted a pass. In ad­di­tion to rush­ing for 73 yards and a touch­down on 14 hauls, seni­or team­mate Rush­awn George also snared a theft.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

“At the end of the day, no mat­ter the reas­ons, you can’t pass blame to any­one or any­thing,” Man­ley said. “You can’t blame this and that, or the ref­er­ees. You have to find a way to over­come that.”

North­east second-year coach Phil Gorm­ley said he was “proud” of his play­ers for their ef­fort and abil­ity to re­main pos­it­ive re­gard­less of any ad­versity. Asked about what sev­er­al wit­nesses de­scribed as in­com­pet­ent and biased of­fi­ci­at­ing, Gorm­ley chose to avoid the top­ic and fo­cus on what he and his coaches are able to handle on their own.

“You can’t win every foot­ball game,” said Gorm­ley, “but you can help build men every day.”

He also ac­cep­ted re­spons­ib­il­ity for the Vik­ings’ de­fens­ive lapses.

“We have to do a bet­ter job of put­ting them in bet­ter po­s­i­tions to make plays,” Gorm­ley said. “We have more of a re­ac­tion­ary de­fense, and they were in some tough spots. Some­times it was like try­ing to fit square pegs in round holes.”

That said, North­east’s de­fense re­fused to be in­tim­id­ated by its for­mid­able, and favored, foe.

“The kids ex­pec­ted to win,” Gorm­ley said. “That’s a really good thing. It’s not about brag­gado­cios. It’s just that they be­lieved that they were go­ing to come out on top. That’s what you want to see. I feel like we’re go­ing in the right dir­ec­tion.”

Ob­vi­ously pleased with Man­ley’s eye-pop­ping per­form­ance, Gorm­ley cred­ited of­fens­ive co­ordin­at­or Rob Ford’s “phe­nom­en­al job” of work­ing with Man­ley, who also punts and holds for kick­ers on spe­cial teams.

When North­east’s coach­ing staff de­cided to pass the QB reins to Man­ley, he didn’t hes­it­ate to ac­cept the chal­lenge.

“I was fine with it right away,” said Man­ley, who shares team cap­tain du­ties with Chuck An­der­son, Steve Rowe and Gladi­mir Paul. “I felt ready for it. It’s our seni­or sea­son. Let’s go out with a bang. I feel blessed that my coaches and team­mates have so much faith in me.”

Com­bined with his bur­geon­ing tal­ent and his im­press­ive 3.5 grade-point av­er­age, Man­ley has garnered some col­lege in­terest and hopes the col­legi­ate re­cog­ni­tion in­creases. Mean­while, Man­ley will fo­cus on his aca­dem­ics while sim­ul­tan­eously learn­ing the nu­ances of what is ar­gu­ably sports’ most pres­sure-packed po­s­i­tion.

“Aca­dem­ics al­ways has to come ahead of sports,” Man­ley said. “Without a brain, you can’t do much of any­thing.”

But with a brain, legs and arm, one could do plenty.

Just ask Abing­ton.

“They were up­beat in the post-game hand­shake,” Man­ley said. “Con­grat­u­lat­ing me on play­ing well, on us play­ing well as a team. They didn’t ex­pect us to play like that. We earned their re­spect as foot­ball play­ers.”

A loss not­with­stand­ing, not a bad start to the sea­son. ••

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