But then he heard his name called and thought about all his family has gone through to get to this moment, when the Florida State star became the first quarterback picked in this year’s NFL draft.
His mother, Jackie, is in remission from breast cancer, he said. She’s still undergoing radiation therapy but is back at work.
”Her hair is growing back; she’s starting to look like herself,” Manuel said. ”I’m just ecstatic right now.”
The Buffalo Bills took Manuel with the 16th pick – the only quarterback selected in the first round. One of the first people to hug Manuel was West Virginia’s Geno Smith, a popular prediction to be the first QB drafted. Instead, Smith wasn’t taken in the first round at all.
The two have known each other since 10th grade.
”That says a lot about Geno’s character,” Manuel said.
This was the latest the first QB has gone since 2000, when the Jets took Chad Pennington 18th. Since then, a quarterback had been selected with the first overall pick 10 times in 12 years.
Over that span, an average of nearly three QBs have been taken in the first round each year.
Now Manuel will be the standard-bearer for what was considered a weak class for quarterbacks.
”I love having a chip on my shoulder,” he said.
Getting Manuel was part of a calculated risk that paid off for Bills general manager Buddy Nix.
Not only did Nix acquire more draft picks by trading back eight spots in the first round, he was still able to fill the Bills’ biggest need by drafting Manuel.
”We calculated that as best we could. You never know what’s going to happen in the draft,” Nix said. ”Normally, I don’t get nervous, but I might have gotten a little nervous toward the end there.”
Manuel landed in Buffalo after the Bills took a gamble by swapping their first pick, at eighth overall, in a deal with St. Louis. It was a trade in which Buffalo acquired additional second- and seventh-round selections (46th and 222nd overall).
He becomes the new face of a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 seasons – the NFL’s longest active drought. And it’s a team in the midst of rebuilding from scratch under new head coach Doug Marrone.
In selecting Manuel, the Bills passed over another quarterback prospect in Ryan Nassib, who spent the past four seasons playing under Marrone at Syracuse.
”I wouldn’t use the word conflicted,” Marrone said, when asked to compare Manuel to Nassib. ”I think at the end of the day, there’s a lot of good quarterbacks in the draft. And we were able to go ahead and take the best quarterback we felt fit us here in our situation in Buffalo.”
Listed at 6-foot-4 and 237 pounds, Manuel has a strong arm, is mobile and went 25-6 in four years with the Seminoles.
He went 263 for 387 for 3,397 yards with 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 14 starts as a senior last season. Overall, he threw 47 touchdowns versus 28 interceptions in 41 career games.
He was also a threat as a runner, finishing with 827 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns.
NFL.com described Manuel as displaying good touch on throws and having a quick release. The one weakness is that he has a tendency to force throws into coverage and cause turnovers.
Manuel has big-game experience, having had a hand in the Seminoles winning four bowl games. That includes last season, when he had 291 yards passing and two TDs, including one rushing, in a 31-10 win over Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl.
Manuel had an inkling the Bills might be interested in drafting him. He held a private workout for Bills officials and also traveled to Buffalo to tour the city and visit the team’s facility.
”There was a lot of confirmation going on for me, so it was more so a matter of when they were going to take me in the draft,” Manuel said. ”I’m going to enjoy tonight. I’m going to enjoy my family, but I know there’s work to be done.”
He’ll get an immediate shot to start competing for the starting job. After cutting starter Ryan Fitzpatrick last month, the Bills did sign six-year veteran Kevin Kolb to a two-year contract earlier this month.
Noting that Manuel will have to prove himself, Nix said he’s not ready yet to ”anoint” Manuel as the Bills starter. And yet, Nix has been so high on drafting a quarterback in the first round that he informed Kolb of that possibility during contract talks.
Adding draft picks was also a major priority for Nix after the Bills entered the draft with only six selections.
In making the deal with the Rams, the Bills have seven more picks over the final six rounds. That includes two second-rounders (41st and 46th). The teams also exchanged third-round picks.
The Bills, whose roster was ranked by NFL.com as the league’s fourth-weakest last month, still have numerous needs to address.
They lack an established receiver opposite Stevie Johnson. They have questions at linebacker, particularly with the defense reverting to a 3-4 scheme under new coordinator Mike Pettine. There’s a need at cornerback and a big hole to fill at left guard after Buffalo lost Andy Levitre to free agency.
Drafting Manuel, however, was the team’s most immediate priority for Nix, who spent much of the past six months scouting nearly every eligible prospect.
”If we can develop this guy, he has the talent to take you to the dance,” Nix said. ”This guy was further along than most of them as far as his knowledge of the game. … This guy, to us, has got leadership qualities. He’s smart. And he’s big.”