Nov. 23, 2002
By Brian Johnson, UCLA Sports Information Assistant
For the past four years, Bruin fans know where they can find Ricky Manning, Jr: Wearing jersey number nine, prepared to face off against the opponent's top wide receiver. A model of consistency during his tenure as a Bruin, Manning started as a true freshman in only his third game and hasn't relinquished the position since, starting in forty-two consecutive games.
From the moment he set foot on the field, Manning felt like he belonged.
"It felt natural, it felt like I belonged here, like I belonged on the field. I'm out there having fun and playing a game I love."
In his first start against his hometown Fresno State Bulldogs (Manning grew up in Fresno, California and attended Edison High School), Manning provided the first of many memorable moments for UCLA football fans.
"The play I remember the most is my freshman year when I got my first start against Fresno State. At the end of the half I got my first career interception and returned it to the eleven-yard line (which produced a Bruin field goal). The funny thing is, is that my wide receiver in high school (Manning played quarterback) who was two years older than me was the one who tackled me."
Big plays at big moments have become a staple of Manning's four -year career. This year has been no different, with Manning providing a defensive spark on many different occasions. In the first game of the year, Manning's bone crushing hit against Colorado State caused a fumble, which led to a touchdown to seal the game. Against San Diego State, Manning's spectacular interception set the tone for an outstanding defensive effort against one of the then top offensive teams in the nation. And most recently, his interception against Washington at the goal line at the end of the half preserved a UCLA lead and gave momentum to the Bruins going into the second half.
As a true senior on a young Bruin team, Manning relishes his leadership role. "It feels good to be a senior. I get to lead, which is something that has been real natural to me in the past. It feels good to work hard and to know that you have guys looking up to you and that you can lead by example. It is nice to be part of a team like this where you have some leaders that have been together for awhile and you got guys underneath you who listen to you, follow you and are willing to work hard."
After being named a third team freshman All-American by The Sporting News and earning All-Pac 10 honors the past two seasons, Manning is on pace to earn even more accolades.
"I didn't set any personal goals this season, but my main goal was to be consistent. I've been consistent my entire career. My first three years were good, and I didn't want my performance to go up and down this year."
As a leader on a tough Bruin secondary Manning leads the team with four interceptions and has played a major role in a defense that is ranked third in the Pac-10. In helping lead the Bruins to a 7-3 record and third place in the Pac-10, Manning has helped bring together a young team.
"Team-wise our goals have been the same all season, that is team unity first and then to win the upcoming game."
Along with playing football, Manning has shown his skills as a multi-sport athlete, playing professional baseball in the summer.
"Though football and baseball are two different sports, I kind of benefit from playing both. My aggressiveness on the baseball diamond comes from football."
So this Saturday, when the Bruins' take the field, the UCLA faithful can take heart in knowing that Rick Manning will be where he has always been. In the starting lineup, suited up and ready to do what it takes to lead the Bruins to victory.