Mannion began rise to starting job with good showing in spring camp
CORVALLIS - Some day, Sean Mannion might be looking at a career as a firefighter.
For now, he is being called upon to light a fire under the Oregon State Beavers.
Mannion will get his first career start on Sept. 24 when the Beavers (0-2) play host to UCLA at Reser Stadium.
The 6-5, 220-pound redshirt freshman from Pleasanton, Calif., has beaten out junior Ryan Katz at quarterback, something OSU coaches saw coming as early as spring practice.
'I'm sure people are very surprised about this move,' coach Mike Riley says, 'but we're not.'
It is not often that a returning starter gets beaten out at QB at the Pac-12 level. It has not happened during the Riley era at Oregon State, though Sean Canfield and Lyle Moevao battled each other for the starting job for two seasons.
As Katz continued to struggle with his consistency and decision-making, though, Mannion kept improving. When Katz was limited with what he could do during spring ball because of offseason wrist surgery, Mannion and sophomore Cody Vaz got plenty of duty.
'Sean had a real good spring,' Riley says. 'He had a lot of reps because Ryan wasn't practicing. Then in (August training) camp, he just kept going.
'There was one day when neither Ryan n.3or Cody were practicing, and Sean took all the reps and had a really impressive day. We could see it coming.'
When the OSU offense sputtered behind Katz in the first half of the Sacramento State game, Mannion came on and played the entire second half, completing 8 of 12 passes for 143 yards. He went nearly the entire way in the 35-0 loss at Wisconsin last Saturday, connecting on 25 of 38 passes for 244 yards.
Now, the job is Mannion's.
'It's exciting,' he says. 'I'm just thankful for the opportunity.'
Like Riley - whose father, Bud, was a lifelong coach and spent much of his career working at Oregon State - Mannion comes from a football family. His father, John, is in his second year as head coach at Silverton High after spending more than two decades coaching high school ball in California. The Foxes (2-0) are ranked eighth in this week's state 5A poll.
Sean was always a ballboy around his father's teams until high school, when he took over as a 6-3, 165-pound sophomore starter at Foothill High during John's first season as head coach. That wasn't how the senior Mannion planned it.
'Sean was not going to play varsity as a sophomore,' John Mannion says. 'As the new head coach, I wasn't going to have my son get in the mix. But the week before our first game, both our quarterbacks got hurt. We had no choice but to use Sean. He started most of the season and performed well.'
John Mannion moved to co-head coach (with Matt Sweeney) and served as defensive coordinator during his son's final two years at Foothill.
'That was fine,' Sean says. 'I was just happy he was out there with me. It was a good experience. He has been a great role model for me.'
After earning honorable-mention all-league honors as a junior, Sean and his father made a trip to Washington State and Oregon State that spring. Six weeks later, they returned to Corvallis for an OSU half-day camp.
'We had 30 quarterbacks come to our camps that summer,' Riley says. 'Ten of them wound up getting Division I offers - we had a heck of a year getting kids on campus. After looking at all of them, we selected him as our first pick and offered him a scholarship.'
On the flight home, the Mannions discussed the situation.
'Sean was really thrilled with the offer from Oregon State,' John Mannion says. 'We'd done unofficial visits to some other schools, including UCLA and San Diego State. After visiting all the schools, Oregon State had shot right to the top. It just felt right for Sean. For me, too, as a dad. It was kind of a no-brainer.'
Mannion committed to OSU in June 2009. Then he 'blew up,' says Riley, as a senior, throwing for 3,521 yards and 27 touchdowns, including a Northern California prep record with 581 yards and five TDs in one game. The Bruins, in particular, came at him hard, trying to get him to change his mind, but Mannion held firm to the Beavers.
At Foothill, Mannion was a starter in football, basketball and in baseball (at pitcher, first base and outfield).
'I'm big on kids playing as many sports as they can play,' John Mannion says. 'I promote that - always have. It's a real healthy thing.'
After Sean's senior year, not so coincidentally, John and his wife, Inga, moved north to Silverton.
'There were a lot of factors involved,' John says. 'Being near Sean was a side benefit.'
Having the family so close meets the approval of Sean.
'It's really been nice,' he says. 'They're an hour away. I get to see them a lot more often than if they were still in the Bay Area.'
Mannion spent last season running Oregon State's scout-team offense.
'Redshirting was good for my development,' he says. 'You learn a lot. You get to play the entire practice. I got a lot of reps against the first- and second-team defense. It makes you a lot better.'
Mannion says he feels he gained command of the Beavers' offensive system during spring practice.
'That's when I began to feel really comfortable with it, like I knew my stuff,' he says.
Riley says Mannion proved he is a student of the game during the summer months, when coaches are prohibited from direct contact with players.
'One of our grad assistants told me Sean would come in every day and watch two to three hours of (video),' the OSU coach says. 'He studied all summer.'
Riley feels as if Mannion's background in a coach's family has served him well.
'He grew up with the game,' Riley says. 'Maybe that's part of the reason he shows such tremendous poise as a quarterback. He is unaffected by most everything that's going on around him.'
Riley has some mixed emotions about Mannion taking over.
'It's difficult, because we have so much respect for Ryan,' Riley says. 'I told Ryan, 'Stay ready.' The worst thing to do is to lose focus because of the difficult time in your life.
'Ryan has a lot of talent and a lot of experience. If and when his next opportunity comes, he has to be ready for it. In the meantime, Sean is ready to go, and he'll play well.'
The elder Mannion feels that way, too.
'Sean is comfortable taking criticism,' John says. 'He is always trying to improve on his shortcomings. That's how he's always been. He is very committed to it. He takes everything pretty seriously. That's a good characteristic.
'We'll see how it all plays out, but he is happy to be a Beaver. He loves Oregon State and loves his teammates. He just wants to do what he can to help them get some wins and move forward.'