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October 29, 2019

EARNED SUCCESS

The one-and-the-same name of the DeSoto, County, Mississippi city and the high school-football program Wynton McManis prepped at there are decidedly out of keeping with the man’s on-field persona:

Olive Branch.

Because if there’s anything McManis ain’t extending out there between the lines, hunting down the rock with a bordering-on fanatical single-mindedness, it’s that.

Nothing peace-and-love, cooing dove about his job description.

“Being in the middle?’’ repeats McManis, the inevitable toothpick flip-flopping side to side in his mouth. “It’s fun. A lot of fun. Things happen a lot faster. The field seems smaller. You have the opportunity to be around the ball a lot more and who wouldn’t enjoy that.

“You get to be that leader, the guy everybody’s looking to.

“Plus, you’re hitting and being hit. Like you said, you’re right in the guts of the game. Takes a lot to be able to hold it down in the middle. You can’t run from anybody or any contact in there.

“It’s big-boy football.

“A grown-man’s game.”

Preparing to make his sixth start in the middle, McManis is growing by leaps and bounds into the grown-man’s game as the 11-6 Calgary Stampeders ready for the short haul to Vancouver and Saturday night’s date against the B.C. Lions which – coupled with Edmonton’s earlier at Mosaic Field in Regina – will determine whether or not they play next week, and if so, where.

In his first year in the leading-man role, remember, Cory Greenwood was only leading the loop in tackles at 79, his sights unblinkingly set on taking down Alex Singleton’s franchise best of 123 before being hurt against Hamilton and subsequently placed on six-game IR.

Shifted over from the Will spot, McManis hasn’t missed a beat(down), making his first start the middle on Sept. 20 at BMO Field versus the Argos the following week and continuing to evolve at the epicentre of Calgary’s defensive resistance.

“Just shows you his versatility,’’ says Jamar Wall, himself a positional convert, from DB to Sam linebacker. “Last year, if you recall, he was a special team’s demon before stepping into the starting role at Will this season. Then when Cory went down he just went after it full bore, showed he was a young guy ready to take advantage of an opportunity.

“That’s what makes our team great. Lots of guys learn multiple positions. Everything’s inter-connected on the field, in one way or another.

“So versatility is important.

“One: Helps your value. Two: Helps the team and you in knowing what the guy beside you is doing so you can play fast.”

The shift from the outside in isn’t nearly as simple as moving a few steps from the right or the left.

“It speaks to his athleticism and ability, right off the jump,’’ praises Stamps’ linebacker coach J.C. Sherritt. “To seamlessly do that … shows how smart a football player he is.

“He can process on the fly, play both spots. Just a guy you want to be around because he loves his job and wants to get better.

“You’ve gotta have a different mindset, moving from Will to the middle. And you’ve got to be a physical football player, going up against 300-pound linemen. When you’re out at the Will, you’re a little more protected, there’s more space. It is, in a sense, more of an athletic position.

“But like I said, it’s pretty impressive to see a guy who can play both at a high level, like he has.

“So he’s earned his success: 100 per cent.”

Communication, as McManis said, has played a vital part in being able to overcome the litany of injuries on defence.

“We’re talking before a play, after a play, during a play,’’ says Wall. “At all times. Coaches don’t have to make many corrections because we have enough vets on this team who understand to make the necessary changes before we even get the call down.

“So we don’t think about it. We just react and play.”

The tightness of the individuals as a collective, agrees McManis, shortens the feeling-out of assuming new, different responsibilities.

“The players around me,’’ he emphasizes, “make such a difference. As a team, we do a good job of letting each other know what’s coming. Being so close, the trust is there,

“Nate (Holley)’s giving me tips, for instance. Cory’s still around to help me out, point out little things. So it’s not like I’m out there trying to learn a new position all by myself.

“I’ve got everybody else with me. We’re in this together.”

And together, they’ll be looking to nail down second place and home-field in the West semi-final at the very least.

“We’re looking at this game like we do every game,’’ McManis insists. “We’re going out to take care of our business. And we’ll see where that leads us.”

He shifts one of those trademark toothpicks from the right side to the left.

“Man, they’re my comfort zone,’’ he concedes, by way of explanation.

“Have been since I was, oh, maybe eight years old. I must have about 3,000 toothpicks at home, in containers all over the place.”

A wide, high-beam grin.

“Yeah, I do like toothpicks.”

Almost as much, you’d wager from his tone, as life on the inside, where things happen more quickly, the field seems smaller, where there is no running and olive branches simply do not exist.