One of Gilmer’s favorite sons, the All-State Wide Receiver, 3A State Player of the Year and State Champion, turned star Oklahoma Sooner Super Star, has now reached the stratospheric highlight of his athletic career…selected in the 2009 NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys. To put it mildly, he is “Living the Dream.” And once again, Manuel Johnson has invited his home town along for the ride.
For those who really know Manuel, he’s about as “Small Town East Texas” as it gets. “Quiet, unassuming, friendly, cheerful, smart, hard working, and a great sense of humor.” All of these adjectives could be used to describe not only Manuel, but the wonderfully supportive family that raised him here in Gilmer, and for that matter the entire community that thinks of him as their “favorite son.”
But put Manuel Johnson in any kind of competitive situation and he turns into something entirely different — a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” type of personality switch that comes over him as soon as the word “win” enters the equation.
“Manny is like a ninja…” says former Oklahoma teammate, former Longview Lobo and now Washington Redskin, Malcolm Kelly. “He’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet…as long as you’re not lined up across from him. Then he turns into a killer. I watched him play in high school, and I saw him just refuse to let his team lose. I’ve seen it in the huddle at OU a million times. He gets that cold stare about him that says, ‘Just give me the ball and get out of the way!’ He may not be the biggest guy in the world, but whatever ‘IT’ is, Manny has ‘IT.’ People asked me when he was drafted in the seventh round if I thought he had a chance to make that team in Dallas. I told them whoever the Cowboys have starting in the slot better watch out, cause Manny doesn’t know how to sit and watch. He’ll come and take your job. I wouldn’t bet against him in a million years. Just watch his film and you’ll see it. All he does is go make plays, and that’s what the NFL is all about. I’m glad I’ll get to see him live twice a year now since we’re in the same division. But as a Redskin, I kind of hope they put him on special teams and let him go cover kicks or something. But if they figure out a way to put the ball in his hands, we might have some problems.”
For Gilmer Buckeye/Dallas Cowboy Fans in Upshur County and beyond, Manuel is again placed into the role of “Pioneer”; eager to deliver another gridiron “First” to the community he calls home. He was the first Buckeye 1st Team All-State Receiver in 2003. The following year, he was the first to be named State MVP, leading the Buckeyes to their first State Championship. He led the first class of Buckeyes to have commits to major D1 Football scholarships, and the first Buckeye to be named “Big 12 Player of the Week.” Now, Manuel is certainly the first from Gilmer to be drafted into the NFL as a Dallas Cowboy. So what is running through his mind, now that Manuel Johnson once again has the “Chance of a Lifetime” to break new ground in putting Gilmer, Texas even more firmly on the map?
“When you think about it, it’s really the same thing all over again for me.” Johnson says reflectively. “It may sound kind of corny, but it goes back to what we learned in Jr. High when we went through the ‘Buckeye Maker.’ Whether it’s football, or college, or life in general, it’s really all about being Positive, Respectful, Intense, and Discipline in Everything you do. It’s Buckeye P.R.I.D.E. I bought into it in the 7th grade, and it’s worked for me ever since. I’m not about to approach this opportunity any other way.”
Manuel says candidly, “Look, I know all of this is like something out of a fairy-tale. But I’ve kind of had to pinch myself every morning since 2001. I felt this way when I scored my first touchdown in Jr. High, and when I played my first game with the varsity on Friday Night. I felt this way on the first snap of the State Championship game. Then I got to OU and ran out there in front of 80,000 people…same feeling…OU / Texas Game, Conference Championships, National Championships…always the same feeling. I’m not naive. By all accounts, I’m not supposed to have gotten anywhere near this far. But when that little voice in my head says, ‘What the heck am I doing here?’ I just go back to Buckeye P.R.I.D.E. I go and ‘BALL-OUT’ and leave it all on the field, and let the chips fall where they may. I know the odds of a 7th Round Pick making an NFL Squad. But there’s some other things I know too. I know when we started two-a-days in 2004, we were picked to finish 3rd in our district. And I know I have a State Championship Ring with my name on it today. I know the summer before my Senior Year, no major schools had offered me a scholarship. Then I went to a day camp at the winningest college football program in the modern era. Today if you look at the OU Record Books at Wide Receiver position, you’ll find my name in there more than once. And now I know if you ‘Google’ ‘2009 Draft Picks of the Dallas Cowboys,’ you’ll see ‘Manuel Johnson, WR - Oklahoma from Gilmer, Texas.’ All anybody can ask for in this world is an opportunity, and I have had my fair share. But success occurs when preparation meets opportunity, and so far, I’ve been ready when my number has been called. So now, I’m here with another incredible chance of a lifetime. And I’m happy to keep being Positive, Respectful, Intense and Discipline with Every chance I get to see my name on the roster of the 2009-2010 Dallas Cowboys. I’m sure you’ll find a lot of people that will give you a lot of good reasons that won’t happen…and that’s ok. I’ll simply continue to count myself as blessed to have another chance to apply some P.R.I.D.E. to the situation, and we’ll see what happens.”
Whatever happens, one has the feeling that nobody from Gilmer, Texas will be underestimating the heart of our champion anytime soon. Boomer Sooner, Go Cowboys, and Go Manny! As always, there’s an Army of Buckeyes standing right behind you!