Manuel hoping for injury-free final season at FSU
By BRENT KALLESTAD
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) EJ Manuel enters his final season at Florida State aiming to cap an up-to-now modest career at quarterback with an injury-free season and an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.
The 22-year-old graduate student takes full-time control of the offense Saturday for a second season in Florida State's spring Garnet and Gold scrimmage while underclassmen Clint Trickett and Jacob Coker battle for No. 2 on the depth chart.
Unlike some of his contemporaries around the country, Manuel went home over his final spring break at Florida State.
Oklahoma's Landry Jones and Clemson's Tajh Boyd - two quarterbacks instrumental in wins over the Seminoles last year - spent their spring breaks on the Stanford campus working with quarterback guru George Whitfield, Jr.
Manuel, though, was winding up his recuperation from a broken leg suffered in the Seminoles' 18-14 Champs Bowl win over Notre Dame.
"I was a little financially disabled to be flying out to California," said the 6-5, 240-pound Manuel, who has previously worked out with other top collegiate quarterbacks at various camps.
Healing the leg and acquainting himself with a rebuilt offensive line was Manuel's top priority this spring.
Manuel was sacked 33 times last year and took many wicked hits trying to evade the defensive rush that all too often seemed to come through Florida State's reconfigured offensive line.
"When you're not playing with the same group of guys every week, it's hard," Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher said.
Manuel was Fisher's marquee recruit, signing with the Seminoles in his first year as offensive coordinator five years ago. Fisher is heading into his third season as head coach after replacing Florida State icon Bobby Bowden.
Manuel, who is pursuing a master's degree in international relations, is 13-4 as a starter. He's passed for 4,344 yards and 24 touchdowns in his Seminoles career and has been intercepted 18 times. A capable runner, Manuel also has rushed for 517 yards and seven touchdowns.
Manuel took a lot of punishment without complaint despite a lack of a running game and playing behind an inexperienced and beat up offensive line for much of last season.
The Seminoles dominated the ACC for the first dozen seasons after joining the league in 1992, but haven't won a league crown since 2005 although they were heavy favorites to do so last year.
Coordinator Mark Stoops' stout defense combined with a strong kicking game salvaged a 9-4 season as Fisher's offense foundered down the stretch. Florida State led the ACC in scoring defense and total defense while the offense was eighth in total yardage.
Manuel played with a hurt left shoulder for much of the 2011 season and suffered a broken bone in his left leg during the Seminoles' 18-14 Champs Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
Florida State measures quarterbacks by a standard of national titles and Heisman trophies. Manuel may not be able to match those feats, but he is within range of catching Charlie Ward in passing yardage and possibly touchdown passes.
A three-year starter, Chris Weinke's 9,839 yards passing and 79 career TDs are largely out of reach.
But Manuel says he's not interested in personal stats.
"I love winning," Manuel said. "I just want to win."
Updated April 13, 2012