A young athlete who came up through the ranks of Fort Belvoir's Bulldogs youth football program and the Fairfax County Youth Football League has committed to attending Yale University after being granted a full scholarship.
Running back Darius Manora, a student at St. Stephens and St. Agnes Episcopal private college preparatory school in Alexandria, Va., has been recognized as a testament to the rewards of developing and refining athletic commitment early on the local playing fields, having rushed for 1,311 yards and 17 touchdowns during the Saints 2012 fall season.
Now he's living the dream, heading to the National Collegiate Athletic Association, soon to represent one of the most prestigious and renowned university programs in the nation.
Manora made his final decision to attend the distinguished Ivy League school after considering several prime candidates.
"I was formally offered by Duke, Northwestern, the Naval Academy, William and Mary, Georgetown, Cornell, Colombia, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale," Manora said. "When I received my first offer it was a surreal moment. I was excited but it was not until after I committed to Yale did I truly realize how blessed I was to receive multiple offers. Ultimately I chose Yale because of the second-to-none education that I will receive. I plan to double major in mass communications and business administration."
For most of his life Manora has been interested in sports in general, but his particular love for football began in early childhood and grew into a major passion, steadily developing throughout his award-winning years as a Belvoir Bulldog.
"As a child I played multiple sports and occasionally I still go to Graves Fitness Center and play a few pickup basketball games," he said. "But after my freshman year of high school I decided to focus on football and train in the winter and spring since I knew that was the sport I wanted to play in college."
So appealing was the gridiron to Manora that he quickly developed a focused and lasting commitment to the game, turning in consistently high stats every season.
"Ever since I first stepped on to a football field, playing college football has always been a dream of mine," he said.
What is the secret to an athlete's ability to rise to such levels of accomplishment in the highly competitive and well-represented world of youth and high-school sports? For Darius Manora, success begins at home, where he first learned the value of balancing high athletic performance with a commitment to excellence in the classroom.
"With a mom who is an elementary school educator and a dad who served as a military officer, Darius had little chance of escaping the importance of education and discipline in his life," said Darius' dad, Greg Manora. "However, even we are impressed with his ability to balance the demanding requirements of challenging academics and sports at such a high level. We give thanks to God for blessing him with some innate abilities and the character and determination to perform with excellence both in the classroom and on the field. Darius is extremely organized, self-motivated and focused when it comes to getting things done."
Greg Manora added that Darius first discovered sports while living in Texas.
"Darius became interested in football at age six," he said. "He had already been playing soccer for two years, since age four, and his older brother was playing high school football at the time. So he decided he'd like to give football a try. We were stationed in San Antonio back then and football was king as the Dallas Cowboys had been winning Super Bowls seemingly every other year in the nineties. Darius took to the game immediately, displaying a combination of speed and instinctive elusiveness that made him a natural at running back, like his favorite player, Emmitt Smith."
"We moved here to Virginia the next year, in 2003, and he stopped playing soccer altogether, but added basketball and track to his favorite, football," Greg Manora continued. "We met Coach Larry Grant during that first summer here as the coaches were looking over the players to determine which teams to assign them to. Coach Grant saw something special in Darius immediately, and fortunately for us, lobbied to get Darius on his team. Darius would go on to excel on the field, courts and track over the next five years as part of Fort Belvoir's youth sports teams. His slew of awards culminated with being honored as the Fairfax County Youth Football League 125-pound Player of the Year in 2008."
When the time came for Darius to begin the transition from high school to college, and to start addressing the interest several schools were having in him, Greg Manora and his wife, Anna, urged their son to look at the whole picture in terms of what a university has to offer.
"As we went through the athletic recruiting process over the past couple of years, we continued to emphasize the absolute priority of choosing a school for its academic prowess more than its athletic programs. So we are extremely proud and count it a tremendous blessing that he has selected prestigious Yale University to pursue his college career. Anna and I are both the first in our Families to obtain college degrees, so to think just one generation later, we get to experience our own son attending one of the greatest academic institutions in the world is both a humbling and joyous occasion."
In spite of Darius' high level of achievement and athletic integrity on the playing field Greg and Anna Manora place their highest pride in the permanent qualities he has developed and committed himself to as an individual.
"Although Darius has been celebrated for his athletic talents, we are most proud of the great person and leader he has become," Greg Manora said. "He enjoys speaking to young people about how to achieve their goals and is a wonderful ambassador for his school. As he heads off to Yale we pray that he continues to love God, look for ways to give back to his community and pass on the lessons he has learned to the next generation. We are eternally grateful to all the teachers, coaches and officials who have had a part in his development as a player, student and person over the years. Fort Belvoir Youth Sports has certainly been an integral part of his maturation and will always have a special place in our hearts."
For a Yale-bound athlete of Darius Manora's caliber, the question inevitably arises as to whether the National Football League is a target in four years. For Darius, the dream is there, but the pursuit of that high achievement is tempered by real-world practicality and a sensible long-range outlook
"The NFL is definitely a goal but my primary focus is to graduate and ensure that I have multiple working opportunities to pursue after football."
Darius Manora's dedication to academic achievement and working to build himself a future in sports and adult life can be summed up in the advice he gives to players just beginning their youth sports endeavors.
"I recommend that all younger players who are just starting out in youth sports programs take school seriously and do your best in everything that you do," he said. "As long as you are willing to work hard, you will be successful."