Move over Wes Welker, Danny Woodhead and Vince Papale, there’s a new underdog in town. And for Chris Manno it’s an honor just to be spoken about in the same sentence as them.
Considering Welker was remarkable at Texas Tech, Woodhead earned the second most all-purpose yardage in NCAA history at Chadron, a Division II school in Nebraska, and Papale had the movie “Invincible” created after his journey, Manno’s story is a bit different.
He only caught 25 balls during his four-year college career at Hofstra. He only started playing football as a junior at Sachem High School. The Arena Football League 2 is hardly an all-star set up, but Manno used that to his benefit and caught 70 passes and 10 touchdowns.
After spending nearly three months at the IMG Football Academy in Florida earlier this year, Manno worked closely with former NFL quarterback and Long Island native Vinny Testaverde.
Ironically, Testaverde's most consistent receiver with the New York Jets was a little guy named Wayne Chrebet, who also was given no chance to succeed but is one of the most well-known athletes to play at Hofstra and certainly a recognizable figure in the NFL from his 11 seasons as one of the toughest slot receivers around.
At IMG, Manno has worked out with big-name talent on a regular basis. He caught balls from Cam Newton, the first overall pick in last year’s NFL Draft, and also faced top tier NFL defenders like Dunta Robinson and Fabian Washington.
After the NFL lockout went into remission, Manno headed back to Florida for more workouts with Testaverde and the IMG crew before the Sewanhaka High School alum made a call to the Kansas City Chiefs and got the ball rolling.
“Vinny pulled a string and they gave me a workout,” said Manno, who was on a plane at 7 a.m. the next morning after fielding a call at 11 p.m. the night before.
Manno said he was speaking closely with the Arizona Cardinals during the same time, but jumped at the first offer for a workout.
He arrived at the team’s practice facility, ran a 40-yard dash and a ton of routes in front of every important figure in the franchise.
“I had 15 minutes to get loose and from there we just ran with it,” said Manno. “I don’t know what happened, something happened and it was good. I got a bunch of bad balls, but dove and caught them.”
Chiefs representatives told him they expected him to be quick, but when they told him, "it was one of the best workouts they’ve ever seen in the last 12 years," his heart started to beat a little faster.
He met with Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli and he heard the words any aspiring professional football player dreams of hearing: “We’d like to offer you a contract.”
“I hope everybody in their life feels like that,” said Manno, who signed a three-year non-guaranteed contract. “It was unbelievable.”
The real challenge started two nights later when Manno endured his first training camp session.
He came in during the third day of camp, which is light years behind in terms of learning a playbook. By the fifth day they had half the offense installed and he’s in major catch-up mode.
“It’s complicated because I’m doing multiple things and the NFL doesn’t wait for anybody,” he said. “Just because it’s my first day, it’s no one else’s.”
Then there is the size difference.
“There are guys who are 6-foot-3 and I’m not,” said Manno, who is 5-foot-11. “With speed and quickness I’m right there. I have to be consistent and learn on the fly."
That’s no problem for Manno. He’s been learning on the fly since he first touched pigskin in high school.
“Chris Manno is one of the hardest workers I ever coached,” said former Sachem football coach Fred Fusaro. “He was a late bloomer who had a goal and then worked his tail off to achieve that goal. He always had good speed, but he worked to make himself faster. He is a great young man who has earned everything he has attained.”
Fusaro is the first person Manno went to see when he officially earned a scholarship to play at Hofstra. It was Fusaro who made that initial call to Hofstra to get him in as a walk-on in the fall of 2004.
“I’m so grateful for him,” said Manno. “He’s the reason I’m still playing today. He went out on a limb for me.”
Wes Welker caught 111 passes from Matt Cassel when both were on the New England Patriots in 2008. Today, Cassel is Manno’s quarterback.
“A couple of years ago look where I was," said Manno, "and now people are comparing me to an all-pro."
Stay tuned to Sachem Patch for updates on Manno's progress in training camp.