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January 3, 2014

McManus signs with Giants

Brandon McManus always felt he would have the opportunity to kick in the NFL again.

And, as it turns out, it will come with a team where he essentially had an audition last August during the preseason.

McManus, who earned first-team all-Big East honors in 2012, graduated as Temple's all-time leading scorer and set just about every one of the program's kicking and punting records, signed a contract Thursday with the New York Giants almost five months after he was released during the preseason by the Indianapolis Colts.

With Giants kicker Josh Brown becoming a free agent, McManus and his agent, Marty Magid, felt New York would provide the best opportunity to compete for a starting spot in the NFL.

"Leading up to the last week of the season, we were talking to a bunch of teams, and there were two teams that really liked me," McManus told OwlScoop.com during a phone interview Friday afternoon. "The Giants did and Indianapolis wanted me back. We kind of took our time to figure out what would be the best situation. With Adam Vinatieri in Indianapolis and Josh Brown in New York, both of their contracts were up so we were trying to figure out where the best spot would be."

The Steelers, Cardinals and Bills, McManus said, came into the picture later, with the Steelers and Bills expressing an interest in having McManus punt, something he also did well at Temple to the tune of a program-record 45.4 yards-per-punt average.

But McManus wants to be an NFL placekicker, and he will have that opportunity once again after spending this past fall working out at Temple's football facility while waiting for his next chance.

"The whole time, we were talking to the assistant GM (Kevin Abrams) and the Giants' player personnel people," McManus said. "Tom Quinn, their special teams coordinator, called me and I knew he liked me."

McManus has twice proved himself to the Giants. The first time came when he kicked a 50-yard field goal for the Colts against the Giants in an Aug. 18 preseason game at MetLife stadium. And after the Colts released McManus later that month and elected to keep Vinatieri, a future Hall of Famer, for the final year of his contract, McManus later had a workout with the Giants during the team's bye week in September.

"They liked me coming out of college at Temple, so I've always had a good relationship with Coach Quinn and they wanted me there," McManus said. "They said they're not sure if they're going to re-sign Josh Brown, but kicking, they said, is one position where they might want to get some youth. So we decided to go there."

The 34-year-old Brown converted 23 of his 26 field goal attempts for the Giants this season, including two makes from 50 yards and beyond, with a long of 52 yards.

In New York, McManus will be reunited with a pair of former Temple assistants in wide receivers coach Kevin Gilbride and offensive assistant Ryan Roeder. Gilbride, the son of the team's recently-retired offensive coordinator, recruited McManus to Temple out of North Penn High School.

And Temple coach Matt Rhule, who spent the 2012 season as the Giants' assistant offensive line coach before returning to North Broad Street, still maintains a relationship with the Giants staff.

"(Gilbride) used to come watch me play basketball when he was recruiting me, so it's definitely going to be neat to be able to continue our friendship up there," McManus said. "It would have been sweet to have Matt up there, but he's obviously in a good spot now being back at Temple as the head coach. But having Temple people up there to help me get acclimated to a new team and a new environment will be a big help."

McManus left big shoes to fill at Temple, where he set career program records for points scored (338) and field goals made (60). As a senior, he converted 14 of 17 field goals, including 6 of 7 from 40 yards or longer, and hit a 50-yarder in a win over South Florida. Those numbers, coupled with his 45.3 yards-per-punt average and first-team all-Big East honors, helped him win the College Football Performance Awards specialist trophy.

Over the last five months, McManus did what he could at Edberg-Olson Hall and Chodoff Field at the team's practice facility to help out freshman kickers Jim Cooper Jr. and Nick Visco, but both struggled this season. Visco eventually won the job from Cooper Jr., a high school all-American at nearby Mainland High School in Linwood, NJ.

Cooper missed all three of his field goal attempts and missed two of his three attempted extra points. Visco, an all-state kicker at suburban Philadelphia's Archbishop Wood High School, went 3 of 5 on field goals and 32 of 35 on extra points this past season, but the shaky kicking situation led Rhule and his staff to only have the team attempt one field goal from beyond 30 yards, which Cooper missed, all season.

"I stayed in shape there and worked out and talked to those guys as much as I could," McManus said of Cooper and Visco. "They're two young and talented kids. I think they might have gotten caught up in the fact that their first game was at Notre Dame. My first game was against Villanova in the Mayor's Cup and while it was an important game, there's a certain magnitude that comes with kicking at Notre Dame, so I think that first game really put a hurting on their confidence because they played in such a big game and they felt the reprimand more than you do in high school, where you really don't have that."

McManus, on the other hand, developed a reputation for being reliable and unflappable at Temple.

"I think it's always been ingrained in my body," McManus said. "I was talking to one of my good friend's father, who was one of my basketball coaches growing up. It's not that I always had the best shooting percentage but I always wanted to take the last shot, and he always used to reiterate that to me and say, 'You were the only one on the team who was like that and no one else was,' so I guess I've been like that for a while.

"With the kicking position, you either love them or hate them. It's a very thin line with that position, and I always wanted to be on that other end where people liked me and know me. If you watched the Alabama game, you saw how unfortunate it was that everyone killed that kid just because he missed a couple kicks against Auburn. I always wanted to be on the other side of that and I think it's a testament to my work ethic because I train my mind and myself just to be ready for those opportunities."

That's where he wants Temple's next kicker, whether it's Visco, Cooper or an incoming freshman or junior college recruit, to get for next season.

And regarding the two incumbents, McManus offered an interesting perspective when it came time to talk about how either one can get a firm hold on the job.

"They'll have to continue to mature as they grow older and learn how to practice," McManus said. "Instead of them talking to each other, maybe it needs to me more of a competitive feel on the field. You can always be best friends off the field, but when you step onto the field out there, you have to have that mentality of 'He's trying to take my job and he's trying to beat me out.' With me, on the field, there's no way I'd want to talk to that person, and that's kind of the approach I had coming in as a freshman and having to beat Jake Brownell out. With these guys, they were two freshmen and it was very much an equal playing field for them.

"That's just the biggest piece for them, I think, to continue to grow maturity-wise. They have to separate their friendship from practice and how to improve for next year. They also have to make more kicks and be more consistent in practice and that way, it will translate into the game. Your coaches need to have confidence in you and a lot of times, they went for it on fourth down."

So before he heads up the New Jersey Turnpike for the Giants' voluntary workouts in April, McManus will continue to spend time at home in Hatfield with his family and work out at Temple's football facility with strength and conditioning coach Jeremy Scott and continue to do what he can to mentor his replacements.

"It'll be nice to be able to stay around the program and stay in shape and be around those guys," McManus said.

"Plus," he added with a laugh. "It's cheaper than a gym membership."

OwlScoop.com editor John Di Carlo can be reached at jgdicarlo@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @OwlScoop_com or @jdicarlo.

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