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July 25, 2011
PINEHURST, N.C. - E.J. Manuel took a breath, took a seat and settled into the pocket.
No frothy-mouthed defenders surrounded the Florida State quarterback. Nope, this pocket, formed in the bottom floor of the Carolina Hotel, was reporters and pens, heavy attention and 55 minutes of questions. He was asked about expectations, hype and pressure. He was asked about a date with Oklahoma, revenge and why he didn't consider going his home-state's flagship school, the University of Virginia.
Welcome to your new world, Mr. Manuel.
With almost 300 credentialed media taking a crack at players during the first day of the ACC Football Kickoff on Sunday, this was Manuel's first authentic peek into a lifestyle that has just found him. Thriving as one of the nation's most accomplished backup quarterbacks in 2010 - solid work that produced the expectations he now carries - Manuel goes from flashy toy to program figurehead and a variety of other roles. There's team leader, spokesman, scapegoat and, oh yea, there's the quarterback thing.
"(The extra attention) has been cool. It's been fun. I think that's the thing with life, you've just got to enjoy it," said Manuel, who was the Seminoles' offensive representative at the ACC Kickoff. Defensive end Brandon Jenkins represented the defense.
"You can't get all tensed up and worry about things," Manuel said. "I've got great teammates, so to represent them, I'm proud to speak about my guys. And I'm looking forward to the challenge of the season."
Cool and collected through Sunday's frenzy as expected, these are roles that he's ready to handle. A coveted treasure on the FSU roster since he entered as one of the country's top quarterbacks in the 2008 recruiting class, Manuel has completed 67.3 percent of his 199 attempts over two seasons. Last year, he stepped in several times in tight spots including the ACC Championship game and the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, leading FSU to a win over South Carolina, its 10th of the season.
"He's a great person off the field and I think that carries onto the field," Jenkins said. "He's got great leadership, great character, and I think he's going to lead us very well."
And Manuel isn't sitting on his sliver of success. He's cranked up film study, saying he's watched "at least an hour of film every single day, Monday through Friday, since we ended the season." Manuel, who, as a child once told his mother that he hopes to fly somewhere someday, has jetsetted to the Manning Passing Academy - working alongside top quarterbacks like Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, Cam Newton and Oklahoma's Landry Jones - and the Elite 11 camp, where he instructed all of the nation's top prep signal callers.
So Manuel hasn't just gotten accustomed to his new role, he's embracing it. And he reinforced it as he stood tall in the pocket on Sunday.
"Coach Fisher just told me to not put any pressure on myself, just be E.J.," he said. "He said if I'm myself, that's more than enough for us to be successful this year. And when your head coach tells you that, it's a great deal of confidence for you just knowing he has your back and he has a great deal of trust in you."
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