TEMPE, Ariz. -- How mature were you as a teenager? Were you ready for the pressure of the spotlight?
Yeah, me neither. Let’s face it, no one really was. That’s just part of the exciting, scary, and arduous journey that we all—at varying rates—take into adulthood.
But then there are those rare few whose maturity and composure transcend their years, showing off greater poise than any of their peers.
Then there is Manny Wilkins.
Arizona State's newest quarterback has already become one of the team’s most popular players among the fanbase before he’s even taken a single snap on the practice field. What is even more remarkable is that it is only partially because of his impressive physical talent that has Sun Devil fans envisioning scores of great plays in the future.
The 6-foot-2, 183-pounder from Novato, Calif. came to Arizona State as a 4-star prospect according to Scout.com, ESPN, and 247, and stands as the Sun Devils’ highest-rated quarterback recruit in nearly a decade. As a senior in 2013, Wilkins threw for 2,195 yards with 21 touchdowns and added 811 yards and another 15 scores on the ground. That dual-threat ability has many expecting his skills to be lethal in the Sun Devil offensive scheme.
Those are certainly impressive numbers, but what really sets Wilkins apart in the eyes of Sun Devil Nation cannot be quantified.
Among the first things that jumps off the page about Wilkins is his commitment during a process which typically removes all meaning from the word.
Upon making his verbal pledge to ASU on May 30 of last year, Wilkins not only stayed true to his word in the ensuing months, but his pride in being a future Sun Devil grew into becoming an unofficial program ambassador.
Wilkins worked tirelessly to help draw other top talent to join him in Tempe. Through social media, personal interactions, text messages and more, Wilkins became a de facto extra recruiter on the Sun Devil staff.
“I just enjoy the opportunity that they (ASU) have given me to step foot on that field,” Wilkins said. “I feel like what’s best for the team is for me to go out and get the top guys to come along with me.”
It paid off.
“He's already demonstrated his leadership skills in just the relationships,” ASU head coach Todd Graham said of Wilkins’ recruiting efforts. “What’s interesting nowadays in recruiting is the relationships there these guys already have coming in. We signed 10 players from the state of California, so obviously that's a big, big focus for us.”
Being a focal point and unifying force is a role that Wilkins readily embraces.
“I really enjoy the opportunity to meet such fine young men from across the country,” said Wilkins. “They have such a long journey ahead of them, and it’s just cool to be a part of that journey. I hope that all of the friendships that I have made throughout this process will really live with me for the rest of my life. When it comes down to it, it comes down to the people that you know, and how hard you work.”
Taken as a whole, these efforts and views paint a very promising role of Wilkins' a leader both now and into the future.
It's one of the truths of football that leadership is one of the most essential parts of being a championship-caliber quarterback, and Wilkins’ remarkable display thus far is rooted in a view of that quality that belies his age.
“I’m really big on leadership,” Wilkins said. “Once you learn how to be a man and not just one of the boys, you can really become a good leader and have a lot of eyes looking up at you.”
With Wilkins now officially on his roster, Graham bottomed lined his view on Wilkins’ intangibles succinctly.
“I was really proud of how proud he was to be a Sun Devil.”
But what makes Wilkins so proud of Arizona State?
“I know that this is my home,” Wilkins said. “My biggest thing with Arizona State and the program was that it’s not just football. It’s a program that the coaching staff, and the academic staff, and everybody around you wants you to do well in football and go win Rose Bowls, but the first thing is teaching you life lessons and teaching you the ways to be successful in life. I think that once you learn how to be successful in life, it’s going to make me that much better as a man and as a football player."
Wilkins' character may give him a leg up over many of his peers, but this summer, the real challenge wil begin. While the next year of his life will present many significant adjustments and challenges, those have done nothing to diminish Wilkins' goals for 2014.
“(I want) To be the best quarterback in the Sun Devil program," Wilkins said of his top goal. "I’m not going in there with the mindset of ‘Oh, I’m redshirting.’ I’m going to go in there and take every single step that I take forward and become the best quarterback that I can be."
If he can make that happen, he will make good on the potential that has both coaches and fans so excited.
"I want to be the man that the coaches put their money on the line for and risking their jobs by offering me a scholarship.”