Linebacker Manna emerges as star for Wesley

Linebackers Samer Manna (left) and Ben Robinson (right) are two of Wesley’s veteran linebackers. (Delaware State News file photo)

Linebackers Samer Manna (left) and Ben Robinson (right) are two of Wesley’s veteran linebackers. (Delaware State News file photo)

DOVER — They call it going ‘under the bridge.’

Basically, it’s when a football defender tries to cut in behind the blocker to get to the running back in the backfield.

If the defender gets to the ball carrier in time, it’s a great play. But, if he doesn’t, it usually ends up in a big gain for the offense.

“If you go under the bridge, you’re allowed to,” explained Wesley College coach Mike Drass. “But you better make the play.”

There was a play in the Wolverines’ 43-7 win over Frostburg State on Saturday when middle linebacker Samer Manna went under the bridge and took down the Bobcats’ ball carrier for a big stop.

Samer Manna

Samer Manna

For Drass, it was just another sign of how much Manna has developed as a player. The junior is in his second season as a starter.

“He did it in a real smart way,” said Drass. “We saw (former All-American linebacker) Sosthene Kapepula do it a million times. … We have a saying, ‘The best way to beat a block is to avoid a block.’ He (Manna) avoided a block and made a great play.

“Guys who start to understand the defense can do those things.”

Certainly Manna made his share of big plays last season when he was a All-East Region first-team selection.

But Drass, whose 17th-ranked Wolverines (1-0 NJAC, 1-1 overall) go to Christopher Newport (1-0, 2-0) for a New Jersey Athletic Conference game on Saturday at 6 p.m., expects even more from Manna this season.

Manna was named the NJAC Defensive Player of the Week on Sunday after making 12 tackles against Frostburg State. He leads the league in tackles at 11.5 per game.

“Samer has a knack for getting to the football,” said Drass.

“Last year was really a learning experience,” said Manna. “And this year I’m just building off that.”

If that means he’ll take a few more calculated gambles on the field, Manna is ready to do that. But it’s always about picking your spots.

“If I know I can make a tackle, then I’m going to shoot for it,” said Manna. “But, otherwise, I’m not going to jeopardize a big play for a tackle. I’m going to do my job and make sure everybody else is doing their job so we can make stops.”

Manna said the biggest thing is not getting too complacent — either individually or as a team.

Wesley is only allowing 14 points per game. But the 21 points the Wolverines gave up in the season opener against Delaware Valley was enough for Wesley to lose.

“The burning feeling from the loss, we used that as more motivation to execute better,” said Manna. “Coach Drass really emphasizes getting better each week and not being content with where we are. Last week we won 43-7 but we could strive for even better than that so that’s what we’re going to be working on.”

Kesack starting at QB

Not surprisingly, Dan Kesack will start again at quarterback this week.

The junior completed 12-of-19 passes for 255 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions against Frostburg. He also ran for a TD.

Austin Eagle

Austin Eagle

Senior center Austin Eagle said Kesack is a pretty emotional guy. Eagle said you could see the QB’s confidence take off during the game.

“It’s just great to see him be happy like that,” said Eagle. “You heard the confidence in his voice. It grew as the game went on, as we started scoring more and more points.”

In two games, Kesack has completed 27-of-43 passes (62.8 percent) for 390 yards with five touchdowns and one interception.

Solving the puzzle

When the season started, Wesley really only had two veteran offensive linemen — Eagle at center and junior Matt Gono at tackle.

So getting a lot of new players all headed in the right direction isn’t going to happen overnight.

“We’re a work in progress,” said Drass. “‘O’ lines are a difficult puzzle to piece together, let’s put it that way. We took a step in the right direction against Frostbrug. Now we need to do the same thing going up against CNU.”

The other starters on the line include junior Blake Roberts and Mujahid Manuel at guard and Smyrna High grad Darren Helwig — a first-year transfer from Delaware State — at tackle. Freshman guard Jamal Earls is also in the rotation.

Eagle said developing a line just takes patience and a lot of hard work.

“It’s a big communications thing,” he said. “The offensive line has to gel, we have to work together on a lot of things. But we’re getting there. It’s a process.”

Extra points

The Wolverines had something of a scary moment before Saturday’s game when junior defensive end Ray Mangold had trouble breathing during the pregame meal. But Mangold was doing much better after going to the hospital for an asthma treatment. He watched the second half of the contest from the sidelines. … Drass said the heat for the 1 p.m. game was pretty intense. “Even at 11 o’clock, before the game, we’re like, ‘Hey this isn’t bad,’” said Drass. “But, as soon as that kickoff came, it was bad. It reminded me of being in East Texas in 2012.” … Wesley is ranked 223rd in Division III in ‘fewest penalties’ after being called for 26 penalties in two games.

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