By dodging tacklers or sometimes just plowing through them, Chantilly running back Torrian Pace was capable of making one of his offensive lineman’s mistakes go unnoticed on the football field.
“He makes plays even when we don’t block right,” head football coach Mike Lalli said after Pace ran for 353 yards and five touchdowns in a Northern Region semifinal win over Westfield on Nov. 14.
In the school’s gymnasium, sophomore center John Manning has had a similar effect on the boys’ basketball team. Even if an opposing player outsmarts four Chargers, he still must account for the shot-blocking and shot-altering of Manning, who averaged 3.5 blocks per game this season.
“That’s kind of my job, to pick up any slack,” Manning said. “I have the role of holding down the middle and it’s nice to know that you can help your teammates out so they don’t have to be perfect all the time.”
According to Smith, there has been a tendency to rely too much on Manning. Often when he’s breaking down film with his players, Smith can point to a specific play and say, “Look, John bailed you out again.”
“I’ve had years where we had five guys and every one of them had to do everything right to get a stop,” said coach Jim Smith, whose in his 20th year of work on Chantilly’s bench. “With John, you could have four guys make a mistake and he’s going to block the shot and get the rebound.”
At 6-foot-11, Manning towers above every other player in the Northern Region. But there’s a reason why -- a few of them, really -- every tall person can’t earn millions of dollars playing professional basketball. Manning wants to work and get better.
In his second year on Chantilly’s varsity team, Manning has developed a voracious work ethic and he’s often the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave, Smith says. And from the very first day he arrived at the school off of Stringfellow Road -- when many questioned his desire to not take the private school route -- Manning has been extremely coachable.
“Generally, when you get someone who’s that good that early, they can be a little hard to coach because everybody tells them how good they are,” Smith said. “He’s a great role model for everyone else.”
Manning helped Chantilly compile the school’s first-ever undefeated Concorde District season and the Chargers, at 20-1, posted the best regular-season mark in school history. In addition to becoming the first Charger to be honored as first team All-Region during his sophomore season, Manning averaged a double-double, with 13 points and 10 rebounds per game.
His scoring ability, defensive tenacity and his maturity beyond his years are all reasons that Manning is recognized as a first team All-Connection pick.
“It’s a good feeling,” Manning said, “but it couldn’t have been possible without my teammates.”