BOWIE – Heading into his freshman year at Bowie High School, quarterback Rodney Manning Jr. decided to give football a try. He had never stepped on the gridiron but believed that the sport would help him be able to dunk a basketball.
Two years later, those goals have changed. After starting at quarterback as a sophomore last year, the 5-foot-10 junior may be the most important player for the Bulldogs this season.
“He’s a leader,” senior linebacker Trent Crawford said. “He holds a lot of things together. He works really hard, and we know we got something with him.”
Last year, Manning was not expected to win the starting quarterback job. Bowie Head Coach Augustus Parrish gave him the nickname “Bony Leftwich” during his freshman year because he did not have a lot of muscle on his then 150-pound frame and his throwing motion was similar to the windmill style of former NFL quarterback Byron Leftwich. But Manning still had a lot of work to do on his throwing motion, as Parrish said it was “10 times worse” than that of the former NFL veteran.
“Mechanics-wise going into 9th grade, I had no mechanics,” Manning said. “I just threw the ball. I learned you don’t have to be the biggest quarterback, but you need to have the best mechanics.”
As he continued to improve and adjust to the starting role, Parrish was more impressed with his poise under center. Manning is small for a quarterback but never backed away when things did not go his way.
“What impressed me is he was small and took some hits, but got back up on every hit,” Parrish said. “That showed me that this kid is not just physically tough but mentally tough. He now really understands and the offense and has truly mastered it.”
Last season, Manning completed 53.7% of his passes while he threw for 1,295 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. The junior will be looking to improve upon those numbers this season and have a more prominent leadership role on the team as an upperclassman.
“This spring and summer we were able to see that,” Parrish said of Manning taking a more significant leadership role. “Just being a leader and understanding the role he plays. The guys respect him, they follow him since he does everything you’re supposed to do on and off the field.”
Manning already understands this and knows how much attention is placed on the quarterback by those inside and outside the team.
“Everything falls back on you,” Manning said. “Whether you have a good game, they always turn to you and say what happened. They always have to stay determined and tune out the outside noise and just keep grinding.”
This year, Manning will have to lead an offense that is slightly less experienced. Bowie lost almost all of its running backs from last year, as well as some key receivers. Parrish expects wide receivers Vincent Vines and Devan Parrish, who combined for 28 receptions for 307 yards, to step up and replace graduating senior Jordan Swann’s production from last year.
At running back, Dionte Wingate will step into the primary role. Despite only having 13 carries for 39 yards, Parrish calls him a “home run hitter.”
While Manning leads the offense, Crawford, who completed 51 tackles last season, will have a similar role for a defense that lost three of its four leading tacklers. Fellow senior Kyle Jackson (35 tackles, three sacks) will line up alongside Crawford.
Upfront, Parrish said junior Miles Blanc (five tackles) is poised for a breakout season, while the senior duo Spencer Marks and James Tyson should also contribute. Both players finished last year with a combined 43 tackles and two sacks.
In the secondary, look for Parrish and Jasiyah Brooks to be leaders. Parrish finished last season with 21 tackles, 10 passes deflected and two interceptions while Brooks stood out with 25 tackles and four passes deflected.
The Bulldogs defense will be searching for consistency in 2019, as they gave up just three points per game in wins but 31 points per contest in losses, all of which came against playoff teams.
Although they do not have a ton of playing experience, Bowie has been through the same lumps as Manning. Bowie was 1-9 in 2017 and still struggled at times while improving to 4-6 last year.
“I really feel like we have a tighter knit group because he went through the lows,” Parrish said. “Everyone understands it because they put the work in and Rodney he just falls in with it.”
With Manning leading the way, just making the playoffs is no longer a goal. Even with the state playoffs expanding from four to eight teams in each region, the goal is to still get one of the top four spots that would qualify under the old system and make a run.
“It’s my biggest goal this year,” Manning said. “I feel like the guys have bought in and we’ve gotten better every day. We just feel like this is the year where we can make some noise in the county.”
Bowie’s first opponent is High Point High School on Sept. 6.