ATLANTA – When his plan to be a quarterback did not materialize, Georgia Tech’s Luke Manget found another way to get a big kick out of football. Make that a lot of big kicks!
A junior from Conyers, Ga., Manget is the Yellow Jackets’ placekicker deluxe and one of the best in the nation at his trade. He’s a top candidate for the Lou Groza Award as the nation’s best placekicker after earning semifinal status for that award a year ago.
He got off on the right foot last Sunday when 10th-ranked Tech opened the new season with a 13-7 victory over Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Manget accounted for seven decisive points with two field goals of 22 and 20 yards and an extra point.
Manget (pronounced mon-JAY) is just a step away from an Atlantic Coast Conference record. He currently has converted 92 consecutive extra points-every one he has been assigned at Tech– and needs just two more to replace Maryland’s Jess Atkinson (1981-84) in the record book.
The record almost slipped away in the Syracuse game. After Tech’s lone touchdown, Manget sliced the kick and missed left-only to gain new life when it was ruled that Syracuse had 12 players on the field. Manget’s second try was perfect-as usual.
Lined up for his familiar soccer-style kicks, Manget hopes to have a shot at a new record Saturday when the Jackets open their home season with a game against The Citadel at 6 p.m. at Bobby Dodd Stadium at Grant Field.
Although he grew up in a “Soccer Family,” and has excelled as a kicker since he was six years old, Manget really wanted to play quarterback. “I’ve always had a strong passing arm,” he said. “I went to my high school coach, (Matt Fligg at Rockdale County High) and asked if I could try out for quarterback. He said ‘No, we need you to kick.’ That ended that.”
But it really was just the start of a brilliant sports career for Manget.
“I played high school soccer as a center mid-fielder very successfully,” Manget says.”The soccer coach, Harry Kustic, gave me some tips on kicking a football. He had some experience as a football kicker. He’s really the only one at the high school level who coached me as a kicker. I never even went to a kicking camp until after I was established.”
Manget says Tech Head Coach George O’Leary regularly gives him some kicking tips, especially when he has missed a kick. “But when I made a mistake, I generally know what I have done wrong,” Manget says. “That’s something that just comes naturally.”
“The toughest thing about kicking is the mental aspect,” he says. “You can’t let your head get in your way. What you have to do is forget the last kick, whether it was successful or not. Just concentrate on the kick coming up. If you made the last one, that possibly can lead to over-confidence. If you missed it, it’s easy to stay down on yourself. So you should just always forget the last one.”
There are some kicks that Manget finds hard to forget-like the 38-yarder in overtime that enabled Tech to beat arch-rival Georgia, 51-48 in 1999. “That definitely was the highlight of my time here,” Manget says. “That was a pretty exciting day for me.”
Manget’s longest kick as a college player was a 50-yarder against North Carolina State last season. But he had three kicks that were longer in high school, including his personal best, a 58-yarder in a win over Avondale High. He also had high school kicks that covered 55 and 51 yards.
Asked if he gets nervous before a big kick, Manget said, “I can’t lie. I do get a little nervous. But basically, I just try to focus on the kick and blot out everything else.”
Manget does, indeed, come from a “Soccer Family.” His Dad, Thomas, played the sport at Georgia State and still plays often. He’s been a regular on the soccer field for 30 years. Luke’s brother, 18-year-old Daniel, plays soccer at Georgia College in Milledgeville.
“My sister, Helen, who’s eight, isn’t into soccer yet,” Luke says. “She’s interested in ballet. But come to think of it, the foot-work in ballet might be good training for soccer.”
Luke’s Tech major is History, Technology and Society. “It’s basically a study of history,” he says. “I took that course because it’s something I find very interesting. I probably won’t wind up making as much money as some other Tech students who take different courses. But I really enjoy studying history.”
Manget’s studies are going well and he currently is on the Dean’s List.
Hobbies play a big part in Luke Manget’s life. For starters, he plays three musical instruments-the guitar, banjo and mandolin. “I’m also learning to play the fiddle,” he says. “My mother plays all those instruments and I learned the basics from her. I enjoy playing classic rock, old country music and bluegrass.”
Luke also is into back-packing and fishing and currently is taking flight training to become a licensed pilot. “Part of my interest in flying came from my grandfather (Doc Manget of Decatur, Ga.),” Luke says. “He was a fighter pilot in the Pacific during World War II. On Veterans’ Day, my grandfather and I were featured on a show telecast by WSB. They talked to me about football and to my grand-father about his experiences in the war.”
Luke Manget, however, is flying in a different direction right now. An all-ACC kicker last season, he’s has his sights set on new football horizons.
He has made 25 of 34 field goal attempts in his two-plus years on the team. His kickoffs are so solid, they enabled Tech to lead the ACC in 2000, limiting opponents to an average of 16.4 yards per return. He ranks third on the Tech list for career points by kicking with 167 points and is sixth on Tech’s overall career scoring list. Scott Sisson, plackicker on teams from 1989 through 1992, leads both lists with 299 points.
If Manget continues at his current scoring pace, he could wind up making a run at the Tech scoring mark. The best thing about it all, however, is that Manget has found a way to have fun on the football field-even if he can’t be the quarterback.