EJ Manuel could have been the quarterback the Buffalo Bills desperately needed in 2013.
Sadly, Manuel never lived up to the hype.
Manuel blossomed in his last two years with the Florida State Seminoles from 2011 to 2012. He passed for a combined 6,058 passing yards and 41 touchdowns during those two years.
Manuel, a Second-Team All-ACC selection in 2012, also became just the second signal caller in college football history to win four consecutive bowl games.
To the dismay of the Bills Mafia, it was an entirely different story in the pro football ranks.
Manuel injured his knee and sat out six games in his rookie season in 2013. He showed some promise but later regretted rushing his recovery process.
Manuel then played behind Kyle Orton and Tyrod Taylor in his last three years in Buffalo from 2014 to 2016. Regrettably, his pro football career never took off after his fateful knee injury in 2013.
This is EJ Manuel’s gridiron story.
Erik Rodriguez “EJ” Manuel, Jr. was born to parents Erik Sr. and Jackie in Virginia Beach, VA on March 19, 1990. He has an older sister, Amber.
Erik Sr. works as a civilian contractor for the United States Navy. His wife Jackie works at Old Dominion University’s athletics department.
The Manuel family members are Christians, per The Buffalo News‘ Mark Gaughan.
“My main core value is being a follower of Christ,” EJ Manuel told FOX Sports South (via The Buffalo News) prior to the 2013 NFL Draft. “Not just saying it, but living it.”
EJ considered his father as his most profound influence. He remembered his dad telling him to never settle for mediocrity and always act with integrity while he was growing up in Virginia.
EJ’s dad, Erik Sr., grew up around two famous sports legends in his hometown of Norfolk, VA: Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith and lightweight boxing champion Pernell “Sweet Pea” Whitaker.
Manuel first stepped on the gridiron when he was six years old in 1996. He realized at that moment that he wanted to become a quarterback.
EJ was on his father Erik Sr’s peewee football team. One of his teammates was future St. Louis Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, who, like EJ, was a member of the 2013 NFL Draft class.
“Imagine having two nine-year-old kids like that on a team,” Erik Manuel, Sr. told Gaughan in the fall of 2013.
EJ did not grow up and became a typical high school jock though.
Manuel had always wanted to excel in academics since he was a child. One day, he cried on his way home because he had a “C” on his report card.
Manuel began playing in basketball clinics when he was nine years old.
Demarco Henderson was Manuel’s basketball coach from 1999 to 2006. One of his assistants was EJ’s dad, Erik Manuel, Sr.
Henderson told Gaughan in 2013 that EJ was bigger than most of his players when he was 10 years old.
However, in Henderson’s opinion, it was not Manuel’s size that set him apart from the other kids – it was his focus and determination.
While Henderson had to give instructions to Manuel’s teammates repeatedly, it only usually took him one time to tell EJ what to do on the hard court.
— Nathan Epstein (@Nathan_Epstein) June 21, 2014
When EJ was 10 years old in 2000, Henderson told Erik Sr. his son was going to become the No. 1 basketball player in the nation someday. Henderson said that after he pulled over during a car ride from a game.
Apparently, basketball ran in the Manuels’ blood. EJ’s sister, Amber, earned Virginia Prep Player of the Year honors during her high school days.
EJ and Amber played one-on-one basketball games in their driveway when they were growing up. Amber always had her younger brother’s number in their memorable battles.
Erik Sr. remembered EJ trying to dunk a basketball for the first time when he was 13 years old. He tried to stuff the ball into the rim for half an hour before he walked inside the house and told his parents he finally succeeded.
However, EJ wasn’t satisfied with just dunking – he wanted to dunk in somebody’s face.
When his sister Amber got home, he tried dunking on her. However, she stuck her elbow out and before they knew it, they got into a skirmish in their driveway, per The Buffalo News.
EJ Manuel also stood out on the track during his formative years in Virginia. He earned runner-up honors in the 200 meters and fifth in the 100 meters in a national track tournament when he was nine years old in 1999.
Future Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin was also a member of that track team.
Harvin and Manuel would eventually become teammates with the Buffalo Bills for two seasons from 2015 to 2016.
As the years went by, EJ’s growth spurt made it clear he was going to become a standout athlete.
By the time EJ was 13 years old, he wore size-12 shoes as a member of the Virginia Beach Flames track squad.
EJ Manuel attended Bayside High School in his hometown of Virginia Beach, VA. He excelled in basketball, track, baseball, and football for the Bayside Marlins.
Bayside Marlins head football coach Darnell Moore was impressed with EJ’s attitude from the get-go.
“His parents did a heckuva job with him,” Moore told The Buffalo News in 2013. “Big-time athletes sometimes get lost, get carried away, and their heads get swollen. Throughout it all, his parents were not going to let that happen.”
Prior to EJ’s senior season in 2007, the Marlins struggled to get into the win column. Behind Manuel’s 1,859 passing yards and 18 touchdown passes that year, Bayside High had a respectable 7-4 win-loss record.
Moore remembered the Marlins were beating some teams by 25 or 30 points. Instead of padding his stats to get the attention of college football scouts, Manuel was content with handing off the football to the running back and milking the clock.
— THE 757 FOOTBALL FAMILY (@the757ff) April 25, 2022
EJ played well enough to earn All-Tidewater, All-State, and Parade All-American honors as a senior in 2007.
Manuel was also a great basketball player during his high school days. However, he realized football was his true calling, so he gave up basketball, track, and baseball when he was 16 years old.
The turning point came when EJ received scholarship offers from many big-time college football programs such as the Florida State Seminoles, LSU Tigers, Alabama Crimson Tide, Tennessee Volunteers, and Oregon Ducks in 2006. He knew it was time to set his sights on the college gridiron.
According to The Buffalo News, then-Florida State offensive coordinator Jimbo Fisher recruited Manuel.
Manuel decided to commit to the Florida State Seminoles because he felt its pro-style offense would help him become an NFL quarterback someday. Plus, Manuel was also a fan of former Seminoles quarterback Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy in 1993.
The stage was now set for EJ Manuel to take the college football world by storm.
College Days with the Florida State Seminoles
EJ Manuel attended Florida State University in Tallahassee, FL from 2008 to 2012. He suited up for Florida State Seminoles head football coaches Bobby Bowden and Jimbo Fisher.
According to The Virginian-Pilot’s David Teel, Manuel wanted to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biomedical engineering at FSU.
However, Manuel’s enthusiasm for that field waned considerably when he attended an 8 a.m. chemistry class during his freshman year in 2008. He told Teel he hated it.
Seminoles assistant football coach Terrell Buckley then told Manuel that his calm demeanor and eloquent speaking style could make broadcasting a great fit for him.
Manuel took Buckley’s words to heart and soon became a mass communications major.
Manuel would eventually put his broadcasting background to good use when he retired from the National Football League some eleven years later.
Manuel redshirted his true freshman season in 2008. He played behind starting quarterback Christian Ponder in his first two years with the Seminoles from 2009 to 2010.
It was a valuable learning lesson for Manuel, who went on to become one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC.
His dad, Erik Sr., told The Buffalo News in 2013 that his son learned the ropes of the college gridiron while watching Ponder from the sidelines. The experience also taught EJ to always be ready for whatever situation came his way.
Watching EJ Manuel on the ACCN talk about the FSU 31 BC 0 First Half.
Let's not forget EJ is responsible for four consecutive bowl wins at Florida State.
– He ensured Bobby won his last game.
– He brought FSU back to the top of thr ACC. pic.twitter.com/aCuexHJUps
— CFB Home (@CFBHome) September 25, 2022
Florida State fans caught a glimpse of EJ Manuel’s potential during his redshirt freshman campaign in 2009.
The Seminoles limped to a 4-5 start that year. To add insult to injury, Ponder injured his shoulder and had to sit out the rest of the season.
Manuel rose to the occasion and threw for a combined 813 yards in FSU’s last four games, including 189 passing yards in the Seminoles’ 24-17 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers in the 2009 Gator Bowl. Manuel earned game MVP honors.
It was a fitting way to end Seminoles head football coach Bobby Bowden’s legendary 24-year tenure in Tallahassee, FL.
When Jimbo Fisher took over the Florida State football program in 2010, it was a massive culture shock to the Seminoles players.
Fisher was a demanding coach who regularly got in Manuel’s face during scrimmages and games, per The Buffalo News.
Seminoles linebacker Nigel Bradham, who became Manuel’s teammate with the Buffalo Bills, noticed the way Fisher treated the FSU quarterback.
In Bradham’s opinion, Manuel handled the situation appropriately. Fisher came down hard on him because not only was he the quarterback, but he was also a prized recruit who he treated like a son. Fisher expected Manuel to play hard on every single down.
There were times when Manuel reached out to his prep basketball coach, Demarco Henderson, during the Jimbo Fisher era.
For his part, Henderson told Manuel that Fisher provided tough leadership that will ultimately help him succeed in his football career.
Despite Fisher’s in-your-face coaching style, Manuel never criticized his coach in public.
“I trusted Coach Fisher,” Manuel told The Buffalo News in 2013. “That’s why I wanted to come here and play for him. I really wanted to come in and learn under Jimbo and be in his offensive system, which is pro style.”
Florida State played at a high level in Fisher’s first year at the helm in the 2010 NCAA season.
The Seminoles won ten of fourteen games that year. Manuel’s best game of the year was a 288-yard passing performance in a 31-23 loss to the Virginia Tech Hokies on December 4, 2010.
Florida State won its second straight bowl game at year’s end. The Seminoles beat the South Carolina Gamecocks in the 2010 Chick-Fil-A Bowl, 26-17.
When Ponder declared for the 2011 NFL Draft, EJ Manuel promptly took over the reins and served notice that he was one of the best signal callers in the ACC.
Manuel had 2,666 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and eight interceptions in the 2011 NCAA season. The Seminoles finished with a 9-4 win-loss record that year.
Manuel ended his redshirt sophomore season on a high note. Behind his 249 passing yards and two passing touchdowns, Florida State edged out the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, 18-14.
— EJ Manuel (@EJManuel3) September 5, 2022
Manuel and his family went through rough sailing prior to his final season with the Seminoles in 2012 when doctors diagnosed his mother Jackie with breast cancer. She weighed heavily on EJ’s mind whenever he took the field that year.
EJ Manuel proved his impressive performance in 2011 was no fluke. He had 3,397 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, and 10 interceptions in the 2012 NCAA campaign.
The Seminoles had an impressive 12-2 win-loss record in Manuel’s second year as the starter and Fisher’s third as head football coach.
Manuel ended his college football career with a 291-yard, one-touchdown performance in a 31-10 rout of the Northern Illinois Huskies in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
After EJ Manuel played in his final down for the Florida State Seminoles, he set a new school record with a 66.9 completion percentage, per The Buffalo News.
He also became just the second quarterback in college football history to win four straight bowl games. The West Virginia Mountaineers’ Pat White first pulled off the impressive feat from 2005 to 2008.
Manuel, who went 25-6 as the Seminoles’ quarterback and earned Second-Team All-ACC honors in 2012, had 7,741 passing yards, 47 touchdowns, and 28 interceptions in his four-year stint at FSU from 2009 to 2012.
Despite EJ Manuel’s impressive showing at FSU, he never lived up to lofty expectations as the Buffalo Bills’ quarterback in the National Football League.
Pro Football Career
The Buffalo Bills made EJ Manuel the 16th overall selection of the 2013 NFL Draft.
Manuel told The Virginian-Pilot in 2020 that he cherished draft day because he wanted to go to New York in the aftermath of his mom’s breast cancer recovery.
Manuel already had an inkling he would become a first-round selection. Sixteen picks into the first round, his premonition came true.
Manuel signed a four-year deal with the Bills worth approximately $8.9 million. It also included a $4.8 million signing bonus.
Manuel bought a house for his parents in Chesapeake, VA with his rookie deal.
Manuel’s pro football career got off to a rocky start. He sat out six games because of knee injuries.
Nonetheless, he started ten games for Bills head coach Doug Marrone in the 2013 NFL season. Manuel had 1,972 passing yards, 11 touchdown passes, and nine interceptions that year.
It turned out that was EJ Manuel’s best stat line in his five-year career in the National Football League.
The Bills won six games for the third consecutive year in 2013. To their fans’ dismay, they extended their postseason drought to fourteen years.
When Manuel became an ACCN college football analyst in 2019, he told The Virginian-Pilot that he wished he could have spent more time recovering from his knee injury as a rookie.
Manuel felt he returned to the gridiron way too soon. He wanted to avoid the league-wide perception that he was a bust if he did not suit up despite his injured knee.
“It changed the projection of my career,” Manuel told The Virginian-Pilot in the fall of 2020.
True enough, EJ Manuel’s pro football career never took off after his controversial rookie season.
Manuel made just seven starts from 2014 to 2016 under Bills head coaches Rex Ryan and Anthony Lynn. He took a backseat to starters Kyle Orton and Tyrod Taylor during those three years.
The Bills were a mediocre team with Ryan and Lynn calling the shots. They averaged eight wins per season from 2014 to 2016.
By the time EJ Manuel played his final down in Western New York, the Bills had not tasted postseason football since the 2000 NFL season when Rob Johnson was Buffalo’s starting quarterback.
To make matters worse for Manuel, the Bills declined his fifth-year option in the spring of 2016. Consequently, he became a free agent at the end of the 2016 NFL season.
The Oakland Raiders signed Manuel to back up starting quarterback Derek Carr prior to the 2017 NFL campaign.
Manuel took the field just twice when a back injury forced the Raiders to sideline Carr temporarily.
Oakland won just six games in 2017 and missed the postseason for the fourteenth time in the past fifteen years.
When the Raiders re-hired former ESPN NFL analyst Jon Gruden to replace Jack Del Rio in 2018, they waived Manuel just nine days prior to the start of the regular season.
According to The Virginian-Pilot, Oakland released Manuel so that AJ McCarron could make its regular-season roster.
After a one-year hiatus from pro football, EJ Manuel would receive a second lease on life from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019.
However, Manuel ultimately decided to follow a different career path when he received that opportunity.
EJ Manuel became a college football analyst for the ACC Network in early 2019. He felt the position was a natural fit.
“If FOX or ESPN itself had offered me, it would have been different,” Manuel told The Virginian-Pilot. “But I’ve played in this conference. I’ve done ACC media day. So what better person to talk about (this) stuff? I’ve lived it, I’ve done it, and I’m not too far removed from it.”
According to Teel, Manuel’s business manager Humble Lukanga set up a meeting with Beverly Hills-based United Talent Agency in 2019. The agency, in turn, helped Manuel land an audition with the ACC Network.
ESPN’s Aaron Katzman remembered Manuel as a great interviewee who always had a pleasant disposition.
Katzman manages some of the ACC network’s in-studio programs. When Manuel reported for his audition, he impressed Katzman with his larger-than-life personality.
At the time Manuel auditioned for a job with the ACC Network, the Kansas City Chiefs offered him an $805,000 contract if he made their regular-season roster in 2019. Had Manuel made it, he would have played behind Pro Bowl quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Manuel’s father Erik Sr. told The Virginian-Pilot they prayed about the decision. The ACC Network’s lure of a fresh start ultimately prevailed. Plus, EJ injured his knee for a third time while he was exercising.
“I realized I had to start thinking like a 40- or 50-year-old, instead of 30 years old,” Manuel told The Virginian-Pilot’s Larry Rubama in 2020. “Had I not hurt my knee again, I probably would have kept playing.”
B1G matchup today at Beaver Stadium! @OhioStateFB vs @PennStateFball a dual at Quarterback. We set the table this morning on @SportsCenter :AM. Oh and @RandyScottESPN, I’ll need that restaurant suggestion in Beantown soon🤝 pic.twitter.com/fJTimvud42
— EJ Manuel (@EJManuel3) October 29, 2022
Manuel also had serious doubts that he would have kept up with the rigors of a 16-game season if Mahomes came down with an injury.
It was clear Manuel’s days in the National Football league were over. He retired from pro football on May 13, 2019.
EJ Manuel had 3,767 passing yards, 20 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions in his five-year NFL career.
Manuel informed Chiefs head coach Andy Reid about his decision one day after news of his retirement broke out.
Kansas City beat the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV, 31-20.
Although Manuel could have earned a Super Bowl ring with the Chiefs, he was content with his decision.
Manuel’s typical Monday routine involves watching games of ACC football teams the whole day. He will continue poring over film of the 15 ACC football squads until Tuesday afternoon.
Manuel could only fathom what it’s like to work as a football analyst who covers the entire college gridiron landscape.
From Wednesday until the big games on Saturday, Manuel attends meetings and radio shows. Saturday is Manuel’s busiest day of the week. He typically puts in 15-hour workdays that start at 8:30 a.m.
Working as a sports analyst entails a lot of work because fans want factual accuracy during actual broadcasts. Manuel knows this all too well.
“You got to know what you’re talking about,” Manuel told The Virginian-Pilot in the fall of 2020. “The one thing you don’t want to do is get up there and you’re wrong.”
Manuel currently resides in the Plantation, FL area, per Rubama.