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You can be as good as you want to be at lacrosse — and Will Manny wanted to be good.
Manny is an attackman for the Boston Cannons, one of nine professional teams in Major League Lacrosse. While he’s a “feed-first attackman” on the field, the player who creates space for teammates to score, off the field he’s “fans-first.”
Win or lose, Manny is usually the last person in the locker room after a game because he doesn’t like to disappoint anyone waiting for an autograph. And he never forgets his biggest fan, his grandfather, who he still thinks of after every goal he scores.
“He always supported me. I say a prayer to him before every game, sort of a pre-game ritual.”
Manny didn’t come from a lacrosse family, and was built more for speed than for strong-arming, but that didn’t stop him from trying a stick on for size in the third grade. By the time he got to St. Anthony’s High School on Long Island, he had fallen hard for the sport, idolizing players like Michael Powell, a smaller, tough attackman that played for Syracuse, a top-rated NCAA lacrosse program.
You don’t have to ask Manny twice why he chose lacrosse over soccer and basketball, which he also played throughout high school.
“Willy had the biggest heart and a desire to play hard.” UMass head coach Greg Cannella
“It’s the perfect combination of all sports,” said Manny. It’s as physical as hockey and football, fast moving like soccer, and strategic like tennis and golf. “If you’re an athlete, this is the perfect game for you.”
Manny didn’t lose a game until his junior year at St. Anthony’s in 2008. That same year he committed to UMass-Amherst, the earliest among his teammates to commit to a college program.
These days, high school lacrosse players commit to colleges as early as their freshman year. While Manny is excited about the continued growth of lacrosse across the country, he still encourages high school players to take their time choosing a program.
“Don’t get sucked into ‘Oh, my best friend committed to Duke, I have to commit now, too,’” he said. “There’s a home for you.”
Once he arrived at UMass, Manny found a father figure in head coach Greg Cannella, the kind of coach that cares as much about his players making it to class as he does about them making it to practice.
“He made me into the man I am today,” said Manny.
That process moved along pretty quickly when Cannella had the team’s largest defensemen rough up Manny in what the former Minuteman calls a “tough” sport.
Cannella knew Manny would never be the biggest guy on the field, but, he admits, “I’m not either.”
“Willy had the biggest heart and a desire to play hard,” said Cannella.
Looking at Manny, he saw a player that was “quick, smart, tough, and selfless.” Manny was the guy getting everyone involved on the field, pushing them to be better. “Even at tryouts. You don’t see that from a lot of players,” said Cannella.
In 2012, Manny helped UMass to an undefeated regular season and a No. 1 ranking in Division I lacrosse, a university first for each. They went on to win the Colonial Association Title and earned a NCAA tournament bid.
That year, Manny was named CAA Player of the Year and U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association First Team All-America. But the accolades didn’t stop there.
Manny was a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, the equivalent to college football’s Heisman Trophy. By the end of his college career, he was one of only three Minutemen to record at least 100 goals and 90 assists.
Manny was drafted by the Cannons in 2013, playing hard at games on weekends while working five days a week as an assistant manager at Bank of America in Boston.
Davey Emala, a fellow attackman for the Cannons, noticed Manny long before they became teammates. He remembered playing lacrosse at NCAA powerhouse North Carolina and seeing “this quick little lefty running around the field.” On the Cannons, Manny would become the lefty to Emala’s righty.
“He’s the first one after a bad game to remind you of the player that you are and can be,” said Emala.
Manny’s leadership, along with his incredible performance, was why he was named tri-captain in 2015.
That same year, he was offered an assistant coach position at Wagner College in New York. Articulate and driven with a self-described “blue collar mentality,” Manny is now studying to get his MBA in Management at Wagner, where he maintains a 4.0 GPA – and the respect of his players.
Manny credits his best Cannons season in three years to coaching, although 2016 is on pace to top last year’s performance. Through five games this season, Manny has 15 goals and 11 assists, while his 28 total points leads all of MLL.
His Cannons teammates, some of whom work full-time jobs, don’t have the opportunity to practice as much as he does.
But Manny doesn’t think professional lacrosse will always be part-time. Above all, he envisions more teams in the MLL. Instead of high school students playing hard to get recruited, Manny sees more college players working to be one of the best in the professional circuit.
And what’s next for Manny? A fourth season with the Cannons, he said, and then there’s coaching.
It doesn’t sound like he will be putting his stick down anytime soon.