For all the national attention Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel gets, the senior who will play his final college game in the Discover Orange Bowl didn’t reveal until recently that his mother has breast cancer.
Manuel, who first told ESPN about his emotionally harrowing season, spoke Friday about his 49-year-old mother, Jackie Manuel, who has Stage 1 cancer and will undergo her final chemotherapy session on Dec. 31 — a day before the game between the Seminoles and Northern Illinois.
She won’t make it to Sun Life Stadium on Tuesday, but EJ’s dad, Erik, will be there.
Manuel said his mom is getting better, and he’s optimistic she will make a full recovery.
“I think that’s the thing that has helped me out the most,” he said.
He conceded how tough it was this season to have his mother struggling with cancer in Virginia Beach, while he was in Tallahassee going through his own ups and downs. He said his mother discovered the cancer in August when she was doing a self-examination.
“My mom didn’t want that to be a reason to cause me not to play well,” he said. “Once something like that happens to somebody you’re close to, it hits home — the awareness of it. It opened my eyes to a lot of things.”
Manuel was especially emotional when his mother came to the Senior Day ceremony before the finale against Florida.
“Honestly, if my mom didn’t have her cancer I don’t think I would have gotten that emotional. … I couldn’t really hold back. I was definitely tearing up,’’ he said.
He threw three interceptions and lost a fumble that day but said his reunion with his mother “wasn’t necessarily the true connection.”
Jackie Manuel will undergo surgery 30 days after her final chemo session.
FSU offensive coordinator James Coley was a quarterback for Miami Senior High and grew up about two blocks from the old Orange Bowl Stadium, where he played his high school home games. On Friday, he reminisced about some of his memories there and what it’s like now without it.
“I grew up on Northwest 4th Street and 18th Avenue,’’ Coley said. “The Orange Bowl was — as kids in that community, that was our playground. Hide-and-seek and running onto the field and throwing the football, getting chased by the security guards and parking cars.
“You might have parked at my house if you went to one of the games. That was always the bright side of a working-class neighborhood, the games on Saturdays, the games on Sundays when the Dolphins were there. I always thought it lifted up the community. As kids you’d go outside and see the Goodyear Blimp. That was a big deal.
“Yeah, you know, it’s weird because I recruit Miami — it’s weird driving down 17th Avenue and not seeing the OB. It’s a nice baseball stadium, a nice park, but you miss it. You miss seeing that stadium.”
S. Florida flavor
Three Seminoles who attended high school in South Florida attended the OB player-availability session Friday: receiver Rashad Green out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas High, running back Devonte Freeman out of Miami Central and receiver Rodney Smith out of Miami Archbishop Carroll.
When asked if he gave his teammates tips on where to go in the area, Freeman said, “A lot of them want to go to South Beach, to the clubs and stuff, just to have fun and get out and see how it is in Miami. I tell them to go to some clubs on the beach like LIV, clubs out of bad environments.
“Our guys handle themselves pretty maturely. They’re grown men about it. I definitely don’t worry about that.”