SANTEE While attending an offseason football clinic, West Hills head coach Tay Sneddon dropped in on a session about defense. The speaker said the first thing a coach should do is find a good kicker, one who routinely blasts kickoffs into the end zone, forcing teams to start drives from the 20.
“And,” the speaker said, “your best kickers are golfers.”
“What?” said a West Hills assistant.
“Dude,” Sneddon said, “Danny’s a golfer. And a good one.”
Danny would be West Hills senior Daniel McManus, a 6-foot-1, 185-pound kicker/wide receiver whose parents likely won’t have to pay a dime for college because their son kicks footballs far and straight.
McManus is tied for the state lead in field goals with 13, three shy of the section record. His long is 55 yards. In the same game he split the uprights from 52 yards. Overall, McManus is 13-of-16 on field goals, one miss coming when the Wolf Pack’s backup holder let the ball slide off the tee.
On kickoffs, McManus so regularly pounds the pigskin into the end zone that Sneddon should give the other 10 coverage players a rest and let them sip water on the sideline.
Of McManus’ 42 kickoffs, only six have been returned. Two were pooch kicks ordered by the head coach. Regarding McManus’ kicking skills, Sneddon said, “He’s got a gift.”
As for the golfers-make-good-kickers angle, that’s easy to comprehend.
“Golfers have to forget the last swing,” said Sneddon. “The same thing with kickers. It’s a pressure situation, and it’s muscle memory. If you miss, you’ve got to let it go, come back and do it again.
“Kickers need mental stability, mental toughness.”
McManus isn’t a year-round, country-club-hopping golfer. He only plays during the spring high school season for West Hills. He’s got game, regularly shooting 39 for nine holes on Carlton Oaks’ tough track.
Golfing, he admits, helps him handle the place-kicking pressure.
“In golf, you play one person at a time. Everyone’s watching you on every swing,” said McManus. “You take 39 strokes, it’s like taking 39 kicks.”
McManus prefers to be considered a football player, not a kicker.
He starts at wide receiver and like his kickoffs, he’s a deep threat. McManus leads West Hills in catches (22), yards receiving (434) and touchdown receptions (five).
“He’s a tough matchup because he’s tall and he’s very strong,” Sneddon said. “He’s athletic and can go up and get it.”
But McManus’ college education will be paid for not for what he can do with his hands, but for what he does with his right foot. He has converted his last nine field goal attempts, tying the section record for consecutive field goals.
“That would be awesome to have the record (by himself),” he said. “But in the heat of the moment I think I’ll probably forget about it until somebody tells me.”
It’s impossible not to root for McManus. He’s humble, preferring to talk about the team rather than himself. He smiles easily and often.
The past two years, sometimes the smile has been forced. His mother, Illyana, is battling pancreatic cancer.
“At home, we’ll go do stuff but my mom sometimes has to stay home because she doesn’t feel good,” said McManus, who has two older brothers. “That’s when it hits me that it’s sad, it’s horrible.
“I have a lot of friends to help me keep my mind off it.”
A lot of friends? McManus was crowned homecoming king, the ceremony coming after the game.”
While others were donned in gowns and suits, McManus modeled shoulder pads.
“Everyone said I smelled terrible,” he said.
Did we mention his grade-point average is 4.17 and he plans on majoring in engineering?
“Around here,” said Sneddon, “he’s royalty.”