By Curtis Pulliam
When New York Giants wide receiver Mario Manningham walked into the auditorium at Warren Harding, all eyes were on him.
To all the kids he seemed larger than life but for Manningham, the main focus of the character and life skills session was to teach young adults about the things smaller than football.
“I feel like the kids don’t have enough structure when it comes to little things, like banking,” said Manningham, a Harding graduate who was on the Giants when they won Super Bowl XLVI in 2012. “And just learning the little things about life, not always seeing it your way.”
The session, which was for 14- to 18-year-olds, covered multiple topics including banking and faith. It ended with a question and answer period with Manningham.
“It [the school] means a lot,” Manningham said, who graduated from Harding in 2005. “I try to get back here every chance I get. I wanted to switch up the camp this year for social reasons.”
This was the first year Manningham put in the character and life skills portion, a session he thought was necessary.
“Just teaching them things they don’t know,” Manningham said. “It’s teaching them things I think they should know. Just doing whatever I have to do to give back.”
Manningham fondly remembers the people who supported him through his playing days at Harding.
“I love the fans,” Manningham said. “I always wanted to give the fans something to cheer about.”
Harding football head coach Steve Arnold is very thankful for what Manningham has done for not only his players but the town of Warren.
“Mario has never forgotten where he came from,” said Arnold. “Every year, he’s been able to do something for the community and for our kids. I think that’s special for somebody who is playing at the highest level.
“When he comes home, he’s just Mario.”
Mario Hainesworth, a Harding junior who plays wide receiver on the football team, was in awe about Manningham’s visit.
“It’s an honor honestly,” said Hainesworth, who also plays strong safety. “It’s nice to see someone from the NFL, being that is my dream to someday make it to the NFL.”
Hainesworth said he took away many things from the session but one item stuck out above the rest.
“He said he had a strong work ethic,” Hainesworth said. “I believe that is really important.”
Manningham himself has faced some adversity in the last couple of years as a pro.
After signing with the San Francisco 49ers two years ago, he lost his grandfather and tore his ACL in the same year.
“That was my everything, my backbone,” Manningham said of his grandfather. “I didn’t know what rock bottom felt like until then. That was a rough year for me. But I overcame it and did what I had to do.”
Manningham re-signed with the Giants in March. He had no worries about finding a team after the setback.
“I am the biggest person when it comes to faith,” Manningham said. “I don’t think negative, I never did. It’s not in my character to think negative.”
Middle schooler Theran Hargrove was excited about having Manningham as a positive role model.
“He’s somebody you can look up to,” Hargrove said.