The first time Jake Bentley met Hank Manos, he knew right away there was something different about him.
“You shake his hand and it’s like, ‘Ouch, man, calm down.’”
Then Bentley discovered that Manos was an all-state wrestling champion in high school, and it all added up.
“When he first got here, he was throwing people down and doing wrestling moves. We were like, ‘Hank, what are you doing?’” Bentley said. “Just the aggressiveness he plays with is the biggest thing you see, how he attacks people and grabs them and doesn’t let them go. You can definitely see the wrestler in him.”
Sixth-year senior Donell Stanley saw it too. He was the guy responsible for training Manos to play center, a position he would take over late last season, allowing Stanley to move back to his more natural position at left guard.
“You can just look at Hank and tell that that guy is jacked up in the head,” Stanley said prior to the Belk Bowl last year. “The way he walks, the way he acts, you can tell he has been doing some boxing or wrestling. We need guys like that.”
Manos, South Carolina’s Class 4A heavyweight state champion as a junior and co-Wrestler of the Year as a senior, was a fan of professional wrestling as a kid — until he discovered the real version of the sport. Now he’s used to the hearing from fans more familiar with the scripted TV version.
“It’s always funny to hear the jokes. ‘You’re a wrestler, here’s a steel chair.’”
Manos proved last year he can do more than just wrestle. After adding size and strength throughout the season, he saw his first action in November against Chattanooga and, a month later, wound up starting at center in the Belk Bowl. Now he enters the 2019 season as South Carolina’s starting center as a redshirt freshman. At 6-4, 290 pounds, he says all those years wrestling helped him become a high school All-American in football and adapt quickly to college football.
“Whenever you are one-on-one with someone on the mat, its kinda like being one-on-one with a defensive lineman,” he said. “It’s a one-on-one sport and very competitive and I definitely contribute some of my success in football to wrestling.”
Chandler Farrell, who battled Manos for the starting center position before moving to tight end, believes Manos’ wrestling background has helped him become a better offensive lineman.
“A big part of playing offensive line is balance, being able to keep your balance with a defensive lineman trying to snag you,” he said. “Wrestling has a lot to do with your center of gravity so I think that really helps him on the offensive line as far as not getting thrown off blocks and his ability to finish blocks.”
Head coach Will Muschamp says he loves wrestlers, which is one reason he recruited Manos out of Chapin (S.C.) High School.
“In wrestling, you can’t blame anyone else, it’s you against the other guy,” he said. “My experience recruiting guys who have wrestled before has been very good. As far as confidence, one-on-one matchups, understanding about leverage and hand placement, all those things carry over from that sport to our sport.”
Manos is one of two new starters on an experienced offensive line, joining sophomore Eric Douglas at right guard, Stanley at left guard and Sadarius Hutcherson and Dylan Wonnum and the tackle spots. After missing part of the spring with an ankle injury, he entered preseason camp battling Farrell, Douglas and others at center. He credits offensive line coach Eric Wolford for pushing him to get better and preparing to move into a starting role.
“Every day we go out and we have that mentality that we are competing … everybody is fighting for a spot,” he said. “Coach Wolf is very good at preparing people and trying to put the best product out there. That’s what this program is about, reloading and putting people in there that can play.”
A big emphasis for the offensive line is improving a running game that ranked 12th in the SEC in rushing last season, averaging just 153 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry. Manos says the offensive line takes running the ball personally.
“Extremely personal. Run game, you’re talking about the offensive line. We took that to heart and we focused on it and we’re ready to go,” he said. “I think everybody on the offensive line, we are all working to improve the run game. We have to improve and I think we’re doing that.”