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Gridiron vet Manley inspires young athletes

October 21, 2007|By DON AINES

MARTINSBURG, W.VA. - After listening to former Washington Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley's tale of rising above a childhood in a Houston ghetto to NFL greatness, Lacey Williams felt moved to do something.

"After hearing that speech, I felt really inspired," Williams, a senior at Musselman High School, said Saturday. "I wanted to play football."

She already is a triple threat at Musselman in soccer, basketball and softball, and one of 34 high school athletes from Berkeley County to be named 2007 Athletes of Honor on Saturday at the annual Bob Elmer Celebrity Sports Breakfast, sponsored by the Rotary Club of Martinsburg.

"I was desperate to get out of my community," Manley, the Redskins' game, season and career leader in sacks, recalled of his childhood. He was so inspired by football that he walked 15 miles to see the Minnesota Vikings get off the team bus for Super Bowl VIII.

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Manley went on to play at Oklahoma State University and spent 11 seasons in the NFL, most of them with the Redskins, where he was named to the Pro Bowl and helped Washington to two Super Bowls.

Manley, however, said he was plagued with self-doubt in college because of a learning disability that left him functionally illiterate well into adulthood.

"If you've got a learning disability, people don't give you a lot of chances. They label you," Manley said."The Joe Theismann tragedy ... gave me a new vision," Manley said of the snapped leg that the Redskins quarterback suffered in a 1985 game against the New York Giants.

"I watched a guy go down that would never play another down of football," Manley said. Manley decided to enroll in school and learn to read so he could have a future after football.

Manley's life after the game was not without challenges, including involvement in drugs and a prison sentence in the 1990s. Manley said he now is in mortgage banking, which he jokingly noted has been going through its own rough times.

"Which quarterback did you enjoy drilling the most?" one member of the audience asked.

"Cowboys," Manley replied.

"I liked his motivational speech. The hardships he's had to go through and he didn't give up," said Katie Mangold, a sophomore and softball player who also was named an Athlete of Honor.

"It's really special to be invited to be here, to be recognized for your accomplishments and be among athletes who have also done well," said Shelby Johnson, a sophomore and cross country runner at Martinsburg High School.

Baseball, basketball, cheerleading, track, cross country, football, soccer, wrestling and volleyball athletes from Berkeley County's four high schools were honored.

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