‘He is the true deal’: Tongan origins, household sacrifice propel UBC’s Giovanni Manu to NFL alternative

In a historic iteration of the NFL draft, the Detroit Lions orchestrated one of many occasion’s largest surprises by buying and selling as much as choose Giovanni Manu.

A shock almost as massive because the 6-foot-7, 350-pound offensive lineman from the College of British Columbia, himself.

Flying quietly underneath the radar all through the pre-draft course of, little was promised to Manu forward of the three-day spectacle hosted in Detroit.

“I did not know if I used to be going to be drafted, however I knew I used to be going to get a shot,” Manu advised CBC Sports activities. “And I advised myself, if I get that shot, I’ll show to those who I should be within the NFL — I’ll make a roster.”

WATCH | UBC blocker Manu readies for NFL alternative with Detroit Lions:

U Sports activities lineman Giovanni Manu on getting drafted by the Detroit Lions

The UBC Thunderbird grew to become the primary participant from UBC to get drafted into the NFL.

Not solely did Manu get his shot, however his alternative arrived with an abundance of safety, because the Lions dealt a coveted future third-round draft alternative with a purpose to decide the Pitt Meadows, B.C., product with the 126th-overall choice.

Manu grew to become the primary ever UBC participant drafted to the NFL, in addition to the primary NFL draft decide instantly out of U Sports activities since 2016 — when Manitoba Bisons defensive lineman David Onyemata was chosen by the New Orleans Saints, additionally within the fourth spherical.

Manu credit Thunderbirds head coach Blake Nill for instilling in him the idea that the NFL was a peak he might aspire to achieve upon coming into the college’s soccer program.

“He noticed the potential inside me and he and he advised me, ‘Hey, child, for those who take this critical for the following 4 to 5 years, you would be the following massive factor out of U Sports activities; you would be probably drafted into the NFL.’

“To listen to that from an skilled head coach, a well-decorated coach, I advised myself at that younger age, my first yr of school … if he believes in me that I might do it, then I ought to push and attempt for it. I simply locked in and I made my dream come true.”

A coach and player speak during a game.
UBC Thunderbirds head coach Blake Nill, left, was an influential determine within the improvement of Manu, proper, all through his collegiate profession. (Photograph courtesy of College of British Columbia)

Nill, a transformed offensive lineman who performed for the Montreal Concordes / Alouettes between 1983-86 and three-time Vanier Cup-winning head coach, understood Manu was totally different from the outset.

“If you noticed him, and evaluate him to the athletes who [I’ve] had through the years which have additionally performed within the NFL, you simply knew that he had the bodily skill-set to try this,” Nill advised CBC Sports activities.

“Gio could be very near me as a result of he jogs my memory of myself so much. No highschool soccer expertise. Each massive guys. … He had my expertise and my background to assist form his improvement. I really imagine he will be the true deal,”

Regardless of Manu’s sudden fourth-round choice, Nill insists his alternative was destined.

“His motion expertise for a person [his] dimension are simply unbelievable,” he mentioned. “It wasn’t going to be if the NFL guys had been going to take a look at him, it was simply going to be [about] what sort of imaginative and prescient they’ve for this child and what they really feel they might do for him.”

Proudly Tongan

Manu, 23, was born and raised within the Polynesian island nation Tonga earlier than transferring to Vancouver on the age of 11. Becoming a member of his two older siblings — brother Burnaby and sister Madelene — who had already made the transfer, he was despatched to reside along with his aunt, Sela Tu’inukuafe, seeking higher schooling and alternative.

He would go on to seek out each, as sports activities opened doorways to one of many nation’s prime educational and sporting establishments in UBC.

Regardless of drastically uprooting his life at such a formative age, Manu’s Tongan heritage would stay a central theme in his evolution.

“I used to be taught the values of simply being humble, being true to myself … the household side — that is enormous in Polynesian tradition,” Manu mentioned.

“I believe that is why I like soccer, as properly. Being part of a staff, all these guys are thought-about brothers. It is a household to me, and after I take into account one thing household, I wish to do every little thing I can do for these individuals.”

WATCH | Manu turns into 1st UBC participant drafted to NFL:

UBC soccer participant describes getting drafted to the NFL as a ‘dream come true’

Giovanni Manu was picked by the Detroit Lions within the fourth spherical of the NFL draft, making him the primary participant to be picked after enjoying for the UBC Thunderbirds.

As a blocker, Manu protects and offers pathways for teammates. However he is needed to forge his personal journey, alone at instances, whereas sustaining focus of his familial motivations.

“My first [day] of highschool, all the youngsters are lined up with their mother and father, and so they’re all taking photos, and I am simply standing there on my own attempting to see how I match into this,” he mentioned. “It was extraordinarily robust, however I simply stored telling myself that is the sacrifice my mother and father are paying for, in order that I might put them in a greater place.”

With the stewardship of his sister off the soccer subject and coach Nill overseeing his improvement on it, Manu possessed a measured parental amalgamation that might guarantee he had the instruments to succeed.

Looking forward to what awaits Manu on the professional degree is arguably the very best state of affairs he might’ve hoped for in an NFL staff.

Underneath the steering of head coach Dan Campbell, the Lions have regularly gained notoriety as a franchise with a gritty, hard-working mentality befitting the picture of the Motor Metropolis — culminating in a division-winning 12-5 report and sudden convention championship look final season.

Nill anticipates his protégé will slot in seamlessly along with his new staff as he embarks on the following chapter of his story, remaining that very same child from Tonga who arrived with the ambition of fulfilling his goals.

“He is not going to be afraid of laborious work, he is not going to have some type of phony self picture,” Nill mentioned.

“Giovanni is aware of that he’ll nonetheless must show himself.”

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