Rarely in high school football do you see a player play varsity for all four years.
Hardly ever do you see that same player play for three different schools.
This is the case for Jackson County High linebacker Billy Manis, who began his high school career at Apalachee High under coach Shane Davis, before playing last year for Habersham Central.
When his family moved for a third time, Jefferson became the new home for Manis, and Jackson County head coach Billy Kirk knew immediately that he had a special player fall into his lap.
“You don’t know what you get when you have someone move in and you haven’t seen them play, but he’s come in and although he’s not a captain or anything like that, he keeps his mouth shut and he plays the game,” Kirk said. “He plays hard and he’s the most physical player we’ve got by far.”
The 6-foot-2, 225-pound middle linebacker currently leads the Panthers with 75 tackles through six games, including nine solo and two assists last week against North Oconee -- he did not play in Week 6 against Oglethorpe County. Manis has been dominating up the middle this season for the Panthers (3-4, 1-2).
Certainly one factor that has led to his dominance on the field has been his past experience playing at higher classifications -- Apalachee moved from AAA to AAAA Manis’ sophomore year, before he moved to Class AAAA Habersham Central his junior year and finally to Jackson County, which made the transition from AAA to AA this season.
“(The transition) really hasn’t been that hard,” Manis said. “(Class) AAAA has bigger players and at (the AA level), players are smaller but usually faster, so it takes a little getting used to but I think I’ve made the transition pretty well.”
Manis’ most recent head coach agrees.
“Just watching him play, you can tell that he’s on a different level,” Kirk said. “Looking at our region, I can honestly say that he’s one of the best linebackers in our region.”
Manis sure started the season as one of the top linebackers in Region 8-AA, averaging nearly 16 tackles per game in the first two weeks and having his best game of the season in Week 4 against East Jackson, where he recorded 18 total tackles, according to Kirk.
“He’s literally one of those linebackers that you look and just think ‘wow.’ Some of the things that he does on the field, and the plays he makes, is just really something to watch,” Kirk said.
According to Manis, it comes with being determined and focused when the lights turn on.
“I just try to read the plays, and keep a high intensity on the field,” he said. “Hopefully that will get my team hyped and we can keep making plays defensively.”
Manis has also made an impact on the other side of the ball, as a fullback and optional kick returner for the Panthers.
“He played (fullback) at Habersham, and we use him their in our ‘Panther Package.’ For his size, he has 4.5 speed and is very athletic,” Kirk said.
Although he’s not known as a vocal leader, Kirk said Manis leads by example on the field.
“When the lights turn on, he’s mean and aggressive and I think that these other guys on the team feed off of that and it helps them play at a higher level,” Kirk said.
The Jackson County defense has been a large part of the Panthers success this year. With a lackluster offense, the Panthers can dominate defensively and that’s when they have the best chance of picking up a win.
In the Panthers three wins this year they have allowed just 11 total points. That’s in comparison to the 148 points they have allowed in their four losses.
For Manis, one goal he would like to accomplish in his final year playing high school football is making the state playoffs – something he did twice at Apalachee. Jackson County hasn’t made a playoff appearance since 1992.
“I know this team hasn’t been (to the playoffs) in a while, so I think that would be nice,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere and I think it would be a good experience for the guys on this team, especially the younger ones.”