Buddy Wolverines drive Wesley defense

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Samer Manna
Samer Manna already made a name for himself in previous years as a leader on the Wesley defense.
Wesley athletics photo

By Jason Bowen

According to Wesley linebackers Samer Manna and Mike Sabino, if their relationship could be described by a buddy movie, it would be the Will Ferrell/John C. Reilly comedy Step Brothers.

The other half of the comedy/tackle duo, Mike Sabino, isn't afraid to throw his tag-team partner under the bus while also throwing opposing ball-carriers to the turf.
Wesley athletics photo

“It’s the only thing comedy-wise that could explain our relationship and how we act around each other,” Sabino said. “The way we interact is funny to a lot of people.”

And like the movie, the relationship started out as a position battle.

Not for parental attention or affection, but the Wolverines Sam linebacker position.

“The first time that we met,” Manna said. “We really weren’t that fond of each other (as freshmen). We were competing for the same spot. It wasn’t really like a rivalry, it was more of a competition between us two.”

And while neither has claims to have wrestled a giraffe to the ground, the pair, both seniors, are bringing ball carriers down at a productive rate this season. They rank one and two in tackles on a defense that is currently No. 1 in total defense.

Allowing just 146 yards a game, the Wolverines have posted three straight shutouts for the first time in school history. The unit has not allowed a point in 14 consecutive quarters.

Still, as seniors, the pair knows those streaks have come mostly against teams that have yet to win a game this season.

“It’s nice, but we still have six games left, Manna said. “When the end of the season comes then we’ll see who the No. 1 defense is.”

After a freshman year spent both spent on special teams and the bench, a position change in their second season helped spark the friendship. Manna moved to the middle, while Sabino began rotating in at strongside linebacker.

“We became best friends,” Manna said, who has earned first team All-NJAC honors the last two years and was First Team D3football.com All-East Region in 2015. “We’re always together, if see me, you’ll see him. We like the same foods. We like the same video games.”

“There’s been so many times watching film, when one of us makes a bad play, gets cut or doesn’t read our keys, that we make sure to give each other crap about it, Sabino said. “But it’s all in fun. We can say what we want to each other, neither of us takes it seriously.”

The pair came to Wesley from very different backgrounds. Manna from the suburban DC area and Northwest High, where he helped lead his team to a state championship and played in the Big-33 All-Star game. Sabino hails from rural Felton, Delaware, and small Lake Forest High.

“Coming in, I wasn’t very confident in my abilities when I first got here,” Sabino said. “He was a step ahead of me, getting more attention making the travel squad on big trips to California and Alabama. It’s not that I was jealous, it was a competition thing, that’s where I wanted to be.”

According to Wesley coach Mike Drass, Sabino has gotten there so far this season.

“Samer has played at an All-American level since he moved into a starting role,” Drass said. “Mike has always been solid, but he has raised his level of play this season.”

As a defensive unit, Manna feels the comradery is not limited to just he and Sabino.

“We have a lot of chemistry on this defense both on and off the field. We hang out off the field, we’ve really bonded. It translates on to the field because we work so well together.”

They pair shares a house with four other guys, including injured starting quarterback Nick Falkenberg, just an extra point kick across the street from the north end zone of Wesley’s Miller Stadium. They are often confused for one another by teammates and coaches.

“I’ve gotten called Samer just as many times as I’ve been called Sabino, said Mike. “It’s kind of weird, we seem to get the same injuries, get sick at the same time have a lot of the same life experiences.”

As they enter the midway point of their senior year, the pair realizes that time is ticking down on their football careers.

“We were just talking about it last night,” Sabino said. “We were reminiscing back to freshman year, camps of the past and how we were just in camp.

“All the sudden, we are playing our fifth game. We’re only guaranteed six more games. What we do with that is on us. When you think about it, it gives you more drive.”

The Wolverines, ranked No. 19 by D3football.com, will need that drive this Saturday when they travel to No. 11 Frostburg State. Both teams are unbeaten in the NJAC at 3-0. The program’s streak of 12 consecutive playoff appearances will probably end with a loss.

“I can’t wait to play in the game,” Manna said. “Frostburg has always been a competitor since we moved into the NJAC. Going into the game as underdog ranking-wise is kind of nice (motivation.)”

(Meanwhile, the grass on their lawn across the street looks like it hasn’t been mowed in a couple of weeks. Their lawnmower is broken. “Samer put diesel in it,” said Sabino.)

Games this Week

No. 10 Delaware Valley (5-0, 4-0 MAC) at Albright (5-0, 4-0). The winner of this game gains the inside track to the MAC title. While the Aggies have impressed each of their five victories, while four of the Lions wins have come by a total of just 12 points. Albright quarterback Alec Vignola spreads the ball around to a veteran receiving corps. Four have 20-plus catches. The balanced Del Val attack is orchestrated by Dashawn Darden, who has 12 touchdown passes and just two interceptions. The Lions won last season’s matchup 20-17 on a touchdown with six seconds left.

No. 19 Wesley (3-1, 3-0 NJAC) at No. 11 Frostburg State (4-0, 3-0). The Bobcats have won 13 straight since last September 10 when the Wolverines beat them 43-7 in Dover. Sitting the cusp of the top ten, Frostburg gets the chance to show that they belong by beating a team that has spent a majority of the last decade there. The key will be containing the Wesley rushing attack led by EJ Lee. Thus far, the Bobcats lead the nation in rush defense (20 yards a game). Wesley quarterback Khaaliq Burroughs has been efficient in three starts since replacing injured Nick Falkenberg but will have his first chance to prove it in a big game. The winner is the odds-on favorite in the NJAC.

No. 18 Alfred (4-0, 2-0 E8) at St. John Fisher (0-4, 0-2). Alfred keeps rolling along, while the Cardinals have lost six games in a row. But with two weeks to prepare Fisher has had time to put things together. Running back James Chambers is a good as any in the E8, and quarterback Johnathan Letta showed some versatility in their three-point loss to Hartwick. Saxon Casey Boston was solid at quarterback last week in his first career start.

Christopher Newport (4-1, 3-1 NJAC) at Salisbury (3-1, 3-0). Another crucial game in the NJAC. The Captains only loss was a last minute three-pointer to Frostburg, and though the Sea Gulls have been less potent on offense than usual this season, maybe because top slot Ryan Kolb has played just one game. Still the Gulls only loss is to unbeaten Albright in overtime. CNU quarterback KJ Kearney can be deadly accurate when he gets rolling.

Montclair State (2-2, 2-1 NJAC) at TCNJ (0-4, 0-3). The Red Hawks should stay in the NJAC race behind a solid defense and game breaking receiver Julanee Prince. The Lions will have to run the better (-21 yards in last week’s loss) to give quarterback Trevor Osler a chance.

William Paterson (0-4, 0-3 NJAC) at Kean (1-3, 1-2). If the Cougars are going to make a run to their third straight winning season, it will start Saturday behind running back Brian Mathews, who rushed for 132 yards in last week’s loss to Montclair.

Apprentice (1-3) at Southern Virginia (0-5). The Knights’ only nonconference game could be their first victory in 2017. The Builders have lost three straight by wide margins.    

Widener (3-2, 3-1 MAC) at Wilkes (0-5, 0-4). The Colonels have struggled to score this season and that probably won’t change when they take on a Widener unit that can get after the quarterback.

King's (2-3, 1-3 MAC) at Misericordia (1-4, 1-3). After a tough loss to Albright last week, the Monarchs still have the ability to match last year’s 5-5 record. If the Cougars can get another win it would be the first time in program history that they got to two.

FDU-Florham (1-4, 0-4 MAC) at Lycoming (2-3, 2-2). The Warriors are looking to win their third straight after a tough start. The Devils have struggled to be competitive in three of the last four games.

Ithaca (2-2, 2-0 LL) at Rochester (2-2, 0-0). This Bomber squad could suddenly be the Liberty League favorite after knocking off Hobart last week. Receiver Will Gladney is a game-breaker. The Jackets have won two-of three but the schedule gets considerably tougher as they play their conference opener.

RPI (3-1, 0-0 LL) at Hobart (3-2, 0-1). Both teams are licking their wounds after disappointing loses last time out. The loser will damage any LL championship aspirations.

St. Lawrence (1-3, 0-1 LL) at Union (4-1, 0-0). Are the Dutch for real? After four straight wins, they’ll get a chance to prove it against a Saints team that has been near the top of the LL the past few seasons and by far the best opponent they’ve faced this season.

Cortland (2-2, 1-1 E8) at Buffalo State (3-1, 1-1). Let the E8 carnage begin. One of these two teams will be out of the conference race after this game.

Morrisville State (2-2, 0-1 E8) at Hartwick (2-3, 1-2). This should be an entertaining game with both teams having the ability to put points on the board and defenses that have struggled.


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Jason Bowen

Jason Bowen has 10 years of Division III coaching experience at Wesley, where he was also the Sports Information Director. He currently provides color analysis on broadcasts of Wesley games on WDEL Radio 1150AM and has served as a staff and freelance writer for the Delaware State News in Dover. He has been a contributor for D3football.com since 2006. By day he teaches high school biology. He is a 1992 graduate of and three-year letter winner at linebacker for Mansfield (Pa.) University.

2006-10 columnist: Adam Samrov
2011-14 columnist: Andrew Lovell

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