EXETER, N.H. — As a true follower of Pinkerton Academy football since the Mihalko days, it’s hard to gauge exactly where Manny Latimore stands after three varsity seasons.
The Astros halfback ended his junior campaign with a show-stopping performance here yesterday. Unfortunately, it came in defeat as Pinkerton fell just short in the state title bid, 31-21 to Exeter.
The 5-10, 180-pounder followed up last week’s 203-yard, 5-TD rushing performance with another 180 on the ground, including an 84-yard run for the opening score of the game.
For kicks, he punted four times — netting 36.3 yards on each — caught a 39-yard pass and nearly propelled his team back into it with an eye-popping 78-yard punt return for TD in the fourth quarter.
From this seat, Latimore made the shift in these last two playoff performances — from superstar to potential legend.
In my eyes, nobody in Astros history can touch the Big Three … Matt Jordan, Ryan Mihalko and Joe Segreti. But after the last eight days, isn’t Latimore knocking on their door, along with guys like Russ Massahos and Ralph Fast?
For the career, he’s got 2,295 rushing yards with three straight trips to the state championship game with one title, as a freshman.
“He’s fast, athletic, just a football player,” said Pinkerton coach Brian O’Reilly. “We’ll find out next year. The entire offense will be built around Manny. It wasn’t built around him this year, he just kind of emerged into it.
“He’s a threat to score on the run and has really nice hands. On the kick return, punt return, he’s dynamite. He’s always been dynamite.”
Latimore flashed that innate penchant for the dynamic midway through the fourth with the Astros on life support.
O’Reilly sent 10 men for a punt-block, leaving Latimore alone as his own 22.
“He had no blockers and was just able to knife through everybody,” said O’Reilly. “He just has that ability.”
Latimore shed no tears postgame. Mature beyond his years, he sat and took the tough questions from the media … about an early fumble and a tough dropped pass. There were no excuses, although on the drop, he had to look right back into the low sun.
“We have to execute in championship games like this, and the mistakes cost us,” said Latimore. “The fumble was unfortunate. I just can’t let those happen.”
Latimore could make a case that his numbers, while pretty darn skippy at 1,477 yards rushing and 27 touchdowns this fall, could be better if he were a tad more selfish.
Here’s an emerging mega-star, who has been asked for three years with the likes of older backfield mates like Chris St. Onge and last year with Kevin Davies and Emmitt Smith to share the football.
Again, to Manny, like his spot in history, the stats just don’t matter.
“I don’t need to know where I stand or to be able to define myself,” said Latimore. “I just want to do whatever I can to help this team win. It’s how I approach every game, every year.”
Manny will continue to motor. It’s how he’s handled the hype every step since he’s got here.
But O’Reilly said it best. This kid has “emerged,” and he’ll be able to dodge the inevitable no longer.
Manny is a man. Astro foes in 2013, consider yourself forewarned.