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Columbia native Martez Manuel grows leadership role with Mizzou football

Eric Blum
Columbia Daily Tribune

Ever since Missouri safety Martez Manuel arrived on campus from down the street during the summer of 2019, his progress has been easy to spot.

The former Rock Bridge team captain exited his first preseason camp as one of the new faces with a route to consistent playing time, name-dropped as such by former head coach Barry Odom and former defensive coordinator Ryan Walters.

Manuel played in all 12 games his freshman season, including a start against Kentucky. That opportunity came because of a first-half suspension to Tyree Gillespie for a targeting penalty from the previous game.

In the middle of a downpour in Lexington, Missouri experienced one of its worst team performances of the year. But Manuel didn't do anything to drag down the Tigers. 

Gillespie entered the fray in the third quarter and made an immediate impact — delivering a few bone-crunching hits to force Kentucky to punt. But while the difference from a true freshman Manuel to soon-to-be NFL Draft pick Gillespie was evident, it didn't derail the Columbia native's progress. It showed him one path forward.

More:Columbia native Manuel adjusting to starting role with Mizzou football

Missouri Tigers safety Martez Manuel celebrates Saturday after defeating the LSU Tigers, 45-41, at Faurot Field. Full coverage, Page B1

After his sophomore season under Eli Drinkwitz where he became a starter and trusted member of his new head coach's secondary, Manuel is primed to jump into a larger role this fall.

Not only does he have significant collegiate experience under his belt, but his confidence continues to increase under new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks.

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"I'm really excited and enjoying the process of learning (the playbook) and sharing that knowledge with younger guys and stuff," Manuel said. "(I've) kind of taken it upon myself to kind of step up into a leadership role with guys like (Nick) Bolton and (Joshuah) Bledsoe being gone.

"So actually I was telling some younger guys, if they have any questions about the playbook, to come to me. Because if I don't know the answer, then we're really in trouble. I've just been trying to be a leader and step up."

Missouri defensive back Martez Manuel (3) goes through a secondary drill during a Feb. 26 practice at the Kadlec Practice Fields.

Manuel started all 10 games during his sophomore season, totaling 64 tackles, five pass break-ups, a forced fumble and 2.5 sacks.

Two of those sacks came in the same quarter against South Carolina. 

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"Just really his leadership skills, his communication and really trying to take control of the defense," Wilks said of what has stood out about Manuel. "He's a detail guy, he's a 'why' guy, wanting to understand why we're doing certain things, which I appreciate because that's how we coach. This is what we're doing and this is why we're doing it. I want the guys to understand that. So he's definitely taking a leadership role."

Drinkwitz has maintained since his arrival in Columbia that it doesn't take an older player to be a leader.

Missouri safety Martez Manuel reacts during the Tigers' spring game Saturday afternoon at Faurot Field.

Martez Manuel's leadership comes off the field as well

Last summer, Manuel was one of the integral Tigers in planning the team's social justice march in the aftermath of George Floyd's death.

The same leadership was apparent in his years at Rock Bridge. During his senior season, he was one of four team captains — all of whom are now playing Power Five Conference football: fellow Missouri defender and linebacker Will Norris, Stanford running back Nate Peat and Minnesota defensive lineman Jalen Logan-Redding.

More:Mizzou football holds first spring game of Eli Drinkwitz era

Now, instead of chasing state championships, Manis part of Missouri's chase for prominence in the Southeastern Conference.

Missouri safety Martez Manuel (3) reacts during a game against South Carolina on Nov. 21 at Williams-Bryce Stadium in Columbia, S.C.

"Our expectation for Martez is to be the best version of himself," Drinkwitz said. "He can be developed to be the best player that he's capable of becoming and really work on trying to master this scheme. Obviously, it's not a matter of Tyree and Joshuah being gone. It's a matter of making sure we understand and learn what we're asking them to do now within this defensive structure and what coach Wilks needs him to do in that game plan.

"Our expectation is that they play to the standard of Mizzou football and they play the very best that they can play, and we'll see how that plays out."

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Contact Eric Blum at eblum@columbiatribune.com. Follow @ByEricBlum on Twitter.

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