By Dominic Chamberlain
Chris Manhertz was a force for the Griffs Basketball team when he played at Canisius from 2010-2014. He finished his collegiate basketball career with 758 points, 789 rebounds, and started in 94 of the 116 games he played in. And then after a by all means successful collegiate career he went pro; in football.
It was announced last Saturday that Manhertz had officially made the final 53-man roster for the New Orleans Saints. It marked the end of a two-year journey for the former Griff to make an NFL roster.
The 6-foot-6 235 pound basketball forward became a tight end, first on the practice squad for the local Buffalo Bills. The most impressive part is Manhertz accomplished that having no prior experience playing football.
“I didn’t play football until the NFL,” said Manhertz. “…To be honest I never really thought I would’ve been playing football. But once the opportunity presented itself I figured why not take it head on.”
Manhertz was recruited by the Bills following his senior year at Canisius. The following season He went to the Saints to join their practice squad where he would to continue to work on making an NFL roster.
The transition from collegiate basketball player to NFL tight end was “Challenging to say the least” for Manhertz. “It’s comparable almost to learning a new language; especially not doing it before.”
Manhertz knew the challenges ahead and took them head on. Having never played football before, he knew he was at a disadvantage to the people who have been playing football. He knew the best way for him to make the team was to put in the work. Lucky for Manhertz he was under the tutelage of former Super Bowl Champion, Super Bowl game Most Valuable Player, and nine-time Pro Bowler Drew Brees.
“It started with the offseason,” said Manhertz. “I knew going into the offseason that this was going to be a big one for me. Just having one season of football under my belt with the practice squad. I knew what I had to do… I went to San Diego with my quarterback Drew Brees for about a week and a half.”
This time is exactly what Manhertz needed. Taking time to catch passes from a man who holds the records for most touchdown passes in a game (7) and consecutive games with a touchdown pass (54) could make anybody better. Manhertz had nothing but high praise for his quarterback.
“That was one of the biggest and best decisions I think I made this whole offseason,” said Manhertz. “The one thing that’s infectious with him and contagious with him is his work ethic. He’s the first one here he’s the last one to leave. He’s really a technician. He works relentlessly to master his craft. That’s a good person I can look up to in this locker-room.”
Perhaps the best thing for Manhertz as he began this journey was that he was an athlete in college. It gave him experience with pressure and playing in big games. And for Manhertz a big part of that came from former Griffs basketball coach Jim Baron.
Everyone at Canisius knew the type of coach Jim Baron was; a hard-nosed guy that expected the best from his players. But to Manhertz, Baron was much more. “(I learned from Baron to) just be a hard nosed guy,” said Manhertz. “Me and coach Baron are from the same place in New York City. Me and him share the same values. He’s been a very key part of my life not only as a coach, as a father figure, as a mentor, as a brother. He’s taught me a lot of values that I can instill into my football career.”
As far as the transition from Baron’s basketball to a literal football rookie wasn’t too hard for Manhertz. Although the sports are different, Manhertz feels that he learned football the right way.
“Thankfully I was surrounded by a great group of guys who molded me a teached me the game the right way. I only learned one way so thankfully I didn’t pick up any bad habits.“
All of this has led to this moment of Manhertz’s career and making the NFL. Now Manhertz has made it to the show and that presents a whole new set of goals for him to achieve. First and foremost he needs to prove his coaches right in their decision to keep him on a roster that includes well known names at the tight end position like Coby Fleener, Josh Hill and Michael Hoomanawanui.
“I know what values and what I bring to the table as a tight end,” said Manhertz. “Am I still developing? I would think so. But thankfully I’ve shown the coaching staff and everybody upstairs enough to keep me around.”
Manhertz has a new goal now that he has made an NFL roster; help the Saints to another Super Bowl. It may seem far-fetched to some football fans after the Saints missed the playoffs after finishing the year with a 7-9 record. But in all fairness, no one expected the Saints and “Who Dat Nation” to win the Super Bowl in 2010.
Manhertz said the goal for every team and player in the league is to win the Super Bowl and for most teams that quest starts this Sunday Spet. 11. Surely most people would be nervous to be making their NFL debut but the former college basketball player proved that by making an NFL team, he isn’t like most people.
“Having my first taste of football in a preseason game, initially thinking that you know my emotions would be all over the place but it was a calming feeling. It felt like practice I felt prepared and I expect to feel that way moving into the game.”
Manhertz and the Saints will take on the Oakland Raiders in New Orleans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Raiders are a team on the rise with former University of Buffalo Bull Khalil Mack leading their defense. But UB has a football team and it makes sense that they would have produced a few NFL players; this Sunday however a Griff will join them on an NFL field.