Clemson University

Former Northwestern star Maners relishes first opportunity to start

Clemson's Barry Humphries signs an autograph for 4-year-old Houston Reed during Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Stadium.
Clemson's Barry Humphries signs an autograph for 4-year-old Houston Reed during Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Stadium.

CLEMSON -- Jimmy Maners stopped and pointed to himself.

"You want to talk to me?" he asked, voice full of pleased surprise.

Welcome to the big time.

Just like he's done for the past four years, Maners was dressed in his game jersey and pants Sunday for Clemson's annual Fan Appreciation Day, coupled with open sessions with the media. Unlike the previous three, Maners was asked to pose for pictures and talk a little more about his role on the team.

He had no problem with it. He waited three years for a chance to prove himself on the field, and now with a full scholarship and a top spot on the depth chart, Maners is ready for a super senior year.

"I'm a senior school-wise and a redshirt junior football-wise," said Maners, a Rock Hill native and former star at Northwestern High School. "If everything goes well, I'm going to be coming back next year."

Maners quarterbacked and punted for the Trojans and came to Clemson as a walk-on kicker, logging three seasons behind incumbent Cole Chason and waiting for his chance. He only got to punt once last year -- against Temple at Charlotte's Bank of America Stadium -- but his contribution didn't go unnoticed.

Chason, coming off a sub-par junior year, was told in no uncertain terms by coach Tommy Bowden that if he began 2006 like he ended 2005, Maners would be replacing him. Maners' work ethic and willingness to practice and condition were impressive, although he never could get above that "squad member" designation -- nice words for a player who was expected to do all the work but receive little or no money from the school.

Chason took Maners' improvement to heart and had a solid senior year; good for the Tigers, but keeping Maners on the sidelines. Once Chason kicked his last ball in the Music City Bowl last year, Maners saw his opportunity.

"I really wish I could have been able to play more," Maners said. "But quarterbacks and punters are the two positions where backups don't get to play that much.

"I just had to take it and deal with it."

Maners attended the team meeting the day before practice began. It was there where Bowden gave him some good news -- he was giving scholarships to five walk-ons, and Maners was one of them.

"I was kind of low-key about it," Maners said. "I didn't really show how happy I was at the meeting or anything, but a lot of the players and coaches congratulated me."

With practice a week old and the Sept. 3 season-opener on the horizon, Maners is listed as starting punter. He's being pushed by former Parade All-American Richard Jackson, but Maners says he's comfortable in his position and confident he can get the job done.

"He's backup in both places," Maners said, referring to Jackson's similar position on the place-kicking chart. "I can't really slack off because he can hit the ball really well."

Bowden said he was pleased with Maners' warming to the role, although it was still early. Since kickers don't practice for three hours every day, Bowden splits Jackson's and Maners' repetitions in half and watches when he can.

"We'll see a lot more of them in the next 10 days," Bowden said. "I've been very pleased with Jimmy, handling the transition from where he was to a projected starter."

Jackson said he admired Maners' approach to practice, where the potential for goofing off is high. While some of the special teamers are soft-tossing the ball around, Jackson said, Maners is staying on the job.

"He's got a great work ethic," Jackson said. "He could have a bad day, but he'll go work on it until he gets it right."

With scholarship in hand and the future bright, Maners reflected on the road that got him to the spot. He punted at Northwestern, but mostly concentrated on quarterbacking, and when he got to Clemson and got better at kicking but still had to wait, it was a chance to learn another lesson -- patience.

Thus endeth the lesson.

"I guess it's just part of the process," Maners said. "I kind of taught myself. I really focused on it once I got to Clemson because I didn't have to do quarterback any more. Now I've really worked on technique and everything, and it's gotten a lot better."