Northwestern's McManis proves production matters more than hype

John Supinie

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald believes Sherrick McManis is a textbook example of better late than never.

Northwestern offered a scholarship to the former Peoria Richwoods High School football star months after his senior season in 2005. A recruiting tape mailed by former Richwoods coach Doug Simper helped get Northwestern's attention. So did a call from Dan Sutter, the former Richwoods star who played linebacker alongside Fitzgerald, including that remarkable season in 1995 when Northwestern won the Big Ten title and appeared in the Rose Bowl.

"That call put him on the radar screen,'' Fitzgerald said. "Once he was on the radar screen, there was no doubt. At the end of the day, it doesn't matter if (an offer) came late. It matters that we got the right one.''

Thus, a connection between Richwoods that began nearly four decades ago continued with McManis, a 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior cornerback and captain whose streak of 30 consecutive starts ended earlier this season because of a strained quad.

"Like my brother and I, he wasn't heavily recruited, but it worked out,'' said former Northwestern linebacker Ed Sutter, Dan's brother. "He could play anywhere in the country, without a doubt. For some odd reason, he didn't get recruited.''

Northwestern (6-4 overall, 3-3 in the Big Ten) plays at Illinois (3-6, 2-5) in a Big Ten Conference game Saturday (11 a.m., ESPN Classic). With a win, the Wildcats can knock the Illini out of bowl contention completely.

"I just knew wherever I was going, I was going to do my best and become the best player I could,'' McManis said. "God willing, Northwestern came and offered me a scholarship.''

McManis ranks ninth in Northwestern history with seven interceptions, including three this season despite missing three games and playing little in two more games because of injury. He's third in school history with 29 passes broken up.

An accomplished student who will graduate with a degree in communication with a 3.0 grade-point average, Fitzgerald said, McManis is mild-mannered and quiet off the field, then becomes a terror on it. Kind of like Bruce Wayne and the dark knight.

"He's such a physical cornerback,'' Fitzgerald said. "He tackles physically. He gets off blocks physically. He's a violent player. He's great young man off the field, then he gets on the field, puts on the cape and turns into Batman.''

Former Northwestern coach Randy Walker liked the film on McManis, and now Fitzgerald is sure of one thing.

"He will play on Sundays for a long, long time,'' he said.

Active in Northwestern's outreach program, McManis has made trips to schools close to campus, Special Olympics and senior citizen homes.

"He's a rock star,'' said Betsi Burns, the assistant athletic director for academic services and student development. "If everyone was like Sherrick, life would be good.''

They weren't beating down his door four years ago. McManis had offers from Eastern Illinois, Western Illinois and Illinois State before Northwestern arrived.

"That's a sore subject with me about college recruiting,'' Simper said. "They give all their scholarships away to kids when they're juniors. They don't have any left for kids who produce when they're seniors. That's what happened with Sherrick.''

Simper sent film to Northwestern, Illinois and Iowa.

"Iowa didn't know how tough he was, how physical he was,'' Simper said. "I guess they never asked me. Illinois said he was too small. Northwestern said, 'He's a good ball player. We'll find a place for him.' ''

Although McManis wouldn't call the game against Illinois a grudge match, Simper had no problem saying it.

"I'm sure he won't say it, but he's got a little extra drive for Saturday,'' said Simper, who travels to watch Northwestern play most weekends.

Simper's biggest moment in coaching came in 2005, when McManis won the Class AA state long jump championship as a Richwoods junior. He makes regular trips to watch Northwestern play.

"I won't do that next year,'' he said.

Dan Sutter and his family have season tickets to the games, and he keeps an eye on McManis.

"He knows he got a special kid with Sherrick,'' Dan Sutter said.

Northwestern's gain was everyone else's loss.

John Supinie can be reached

A look at Northwestern

Record: 6-4 overall, 3-3 in the Big Ten

So far: Def. Towson 47-14, def. Eastern Michigan 27-24, lost to Syracuse 37-34, lost to Minnesota 35-24, def. Purdue 27-21, def. Miami (Ohio) 16-6, lost to Michigan State 24-14, def. Indiana 29-28, lost to Penn State 34-13, def. Iowa 17-10.

Coach: Pat Fitzgerald, 25-22 in his fourth season at Northwestern and overall.

Players to watch: QB Mike Kafka (2,267 yards passing, 9 TDs; 236 yards rushing, 6 TDs), WR Zeke Markshausen 633 yards, 2 TDs), DDE Corey Wootton (2 sacks).

Did you know? For the first time in school history, the Wildcats are bowl eligible for the third straight season.

The Richwoods connection

A list of Peoria Richwoods players who played college football at Northwestern.

Sherrick McManis, CB (2006-09)

Dan Sutter, LB (1992-95)

Ed Sutter, LB/P (1988-91)

Alec Morris, DB (1986-89)

D.R. Phillips, DE/LB (1971-74)

Mark Ruff, OL (1971-74)

Greg Strunk, QB (1970-72)

Rick Telander, DB (1968-70)