By Hector Longo
---- — LAWRENCE -- Cam Manning relishes every minute left in his football career.
“Every game could be the last one that really means something. I mean, it’s just about over,” said the senior outside linebacker, who with his Central Catholic mates travels to Everett High tomorrow (1:30 p.m.) for the Division 1 North football championship game. “I’ve played football for nine years now. It’s made me a man. And anytime now, it could be done. Of course, you feel it.”
Manning and Central so far have lived the football dream. Rolling through the Merrimack Valley Conference large division unbeaten, their only blemish was to a team that is no more -- St. John’s Prep with Johnny Thomas.
For the two-year starter, the rewards have been well-earned.
It all could end for Manning, who is not planning on ever playing the game again. He’s focusing on big schools, including Michigan State and the University of Colorado, where the college experience is top priority.
“It’s all about my future now, doing what’s best for me to ultimately get a good job,” said Manning, who just the javelin in track. “Football isn’t part of that, at least not playing it.”
His coach, Chuck Adamopoulos, is 100 percent behind the decision.
He said, “He’s a good kid, who’s worked hard to get where he is. So, I get the feeling that things are going to work for him.”
Manning has blossomed this fall after being almost exclusively a pass rusher as a junior.
“It was pretty much all we asked,” said Adamopoulos. “But this season, he’s done a lot more in coverage and against the run. In turn, it’s allowed our defense to do a lot more.”
Part of it was maturing. There was also an extension of responsibility.
“I felt I had to be there for some of the young guys,” said Manning. “I had to be more of a leader.”
Central has delivered the goods defensively. Take away the 40-21 loss to the Prep and Central has allowed only 13.3 points a game in the eight victories.
“That’s a very tough defense,” said Everett coach John DiBiaso. “I saw them early in the season (vs. St. John’s) and I felt all along they would be the team to beat in the North.”
Quite a compliment from the Crimson Tide boss.
Manning relishes the challenge of playing the state’s super power.
“We’ve wanted to play Everett for a long time. I mean, this will be the biggest challenge we’ve ever seen,” said Manning. “I even like the fact that we are going to their place to play it.”
For Central, the challenge is immense. Everett is the program in this state by which all others are judged. Manning would have it no other way.
“You’re just so close to a state title right now,” said Manning. “You have to leave it all out there.”
Hopefully, for Manning and the Raiders, the effort will be enough to keep them playing another day.
Teams: Everett (8-1) vs. Central Catholic (8-1)
Time: Tomorrow, 1:30 p.m. at Everett
Round: Division 1 North final/state quarterfinal