Wesley notebook: Steady Manna becomes star LB

Linebacker Samer Manna (with hat) and Ben Robinson (12) talk with coach Mike Drass during Wesley’s game with Christopher Newport. Manna had 17 tackles in the game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

Linebacker Samer Manna (with hat) and Ben Robinson (12) talk with coach Mike Drass during Wesley’s game with Christopher Newport. Manna had 17 tackles in the game. (Special to the Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER — Samer Manna remembers laughing to himself last year when his teammates complained about hurting after a game.

“I was like, ‘Why are these guys sore?’” said Manna. “I feel good.”

But now that’s he’s Wesley College’s starting middle linebacker, the sophomore isn’t laughing anymore.

After posting double-digit tackle totals in four straight games, Manna’s the one who’s now feeling it on Sunday morning.

“This year, oh my gosh, it’s a big difference,” he said. “Sore, stiff. … I’ve just got to take care of my body after that. It goes with the territory, definitely.”

There are a lot of things that are different for Manna this season.

A backup last season, he now has a team-high 55 tackles for the fourth-ranked Wolverines (4-0 NJAC, 5-0 overall), who host Kean (3-1, 4-1) on Saturday at 1 p.m. for homecoming. The next most productive tackler on the squad, fellow linebacker Ben Robinson, has 34.

And that comes after the 6-foot, 220-pounder had just nine tackles in 14 games all last season.

“Great linebackers are always making plays,” said coach Mike Drass. “For us, he’s been the guy who’s been that steady force throughout the season. He hasn’t missed any tackles yet. He’s a guy who’s getting off blocks, avoiding blocks and making tackles.”

In Wesley’s second game of the season, a 44-24 win over Christopher Newport, Manna was in on 17 tackles. He was surprised when he heard the number.
“I thought I played a decent game,” said Manna. “But I didn’t think it was 17 tackles.”

Manna’s job hasn’t gotten any easier as the season has gone along. The Wolverines lost both Julian Jones — their one true veteran linebacker — to a season-ending knee injury.

That comes after Wesley lost a host of good linebackers to graduation following last season. That group included Sosthene Kapepula, Jordan Wescott, Matt Capetola and Luke Maginnis.

The four players were among the team’s seven top tacklers last fall.

Manna, who is second in the New Jersey Athletic Conference at 11 tackles per game, isn’t trying to make anybody forget those standouts. He’s just trying to put to use everything he learned from those players.

“There were definitely big shoes to fill,” said Manna, who is also the long snapper on field goals. “But I felt like, in the summer, I prepared myself well enough to replace them. They were a really big help in getting me ready for this season.

“The defensive line really helps me do that,” he said about his tackle stats. “They all do their jobs perfectly so it really helps me make a lot of plays.”

Doing it all

Even before last Saturday, Joe Callahan’s teammates believed there wasn’t much that the senior quarterback couldn’t do.

But Callahan added to his legend by making a big defensive play in the Wolverines’ 45-14 win over the College of New Jersey.

With a Lion defender racing down the sidelines with a second-half interception, Callahan not only ran him down but stripped the ball loose and then fell on the fumble.

Viedo of the play went national in the Division III football world and only earned Callahan a little more admiration from his teammates.

“It was crazy,” said Manna. “We were like, ‘Hey, you should come play defense making plays like that.’”

“That’s not just a great effort but it’s a great football play,” said Drass. “To see the ball free and just strip it … we work on that on defense every day. But I don’t think the quarterbacks ever do a ball-stripping drill.”

“It was fun to watch on film,” said senior tackle Temi Adebayo. “But it’s also something that you can learn from. It shows that you have to keep hustling, no matter what.”

Adebayo playing his best

After three years as a starter, Adebayo knows people would say he’s had a pretty good college career.

But the 6-foot-4, 300-pounder believes that, before this season, he wasn’t really the player he could have been.

“I pretty much was seen as a leader,” said Adebayo. “But I didn’t really embrace the role until this summer. One of my coaches said, ‘Everybody else is looking up to you and your actions speak louder than your words.’ I’d rather my actions show what I want to do rather than just talking about it.”

Drass said Adebayo’s change in attitude has worked wonders for the big man. He also credits new offensive line coach Jeff Braxton for getting Adebayo turned around.

“He’s always been a really solid, consistent player for us,” said Drass. “But I’d say, this year, he’s really raised the level of his game.”

“I bought into the system more this year,” said Adebayo, who’s started 41 of his 44 career games at Wesley. “I’ve learned that my actions affect how everyone else plays. I want to be able to come out motivated, make sure the guys are motivated and keep coming out and working every day.”

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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