Over the course of Nebraska football’s 2020 season, wide receiver Omar Manning’s biggest improvements came off the field.
The highly-touted JUCO transfer brought plenty of intrigue, and was expected to bolster a wide receiver room in need of some help. That never came to fruition, as he only saw one target and didn’t play after the Northwestern game.
Speculation expectedly ensued, but the reason for this wasn’t any physical injury, or behavioral issues. Manning was on a journey to get his mental health in order.
“Especially when COVID hit, I dealt with a lot of personal things,” Manning said at Monday’s press conference. “I was at a very real low point you know, I just had to dig myself out of the hole.”
That process didn’t happen alone. He gave credit to Dr. Brett Haskell of Nebraska’s sport psychology department, saying she was there “every step of the way.” He said it was the first time he had talked to a professional about his mental health, which made him nervous at first.
Manning also said head coach Scott Frost and the rest of the team supported him through this journey.
“Coach Frost, his patience with me and the type of man he was for me, I definitely needed that,” he said. “And all my teammates too, it was just positive.”
Frost said that it wasn’t always easy to be patient with Manning, but he knew it’s what was needed.
“It has been necessary to be patient with him,” Frost said. “It is going to be a good story if he keeps on the trajectory that he is on. I like to see guys fight through things and come out the other side. And he is on a good path to do that.”
That patience paid off against Oklahoma, when Manning made his first touchdown catch of the year to make it a one-score game. Through four weeks, that touchdown has been his biggest moment but he’s consistently made smaller contributions, grabbing two receptions in each of the three games he’s played.
Now that he’s worked through some of his own struggles, he’s looking to give back to his teammates. Manning said that he’s grown as a leader in this time, especially for some of the younger players in the locker room.
The main lesson he tells others is to “trust the process” and have faith, using his own journey as an example.
“Being able to tell my story to them, on the field and off the field,” he said. “What kind of headspace I had to be in order to face adversity so I’m just pouring into them, whenever I can.”
The pouring doesn’t stop with his team. Manning also recently partnered with StandWithBands, a company that partners with athletes to create personalized wristbands and gives part of the proceeds to charity.
Noah Borgmann, who runs the company along with his brother, reached out to Manning and other athletes after name, image and likeness rules passed. The wideout was interested in the idea, and set up a Zoom call to discuss.
“I gave the athletes an opportunity to shape their platform in a way that they can choose,” Borgmann said. “Just to show what they’re interested in and what their heart beats for.”
Manning’s wristband features his name, jersey number and the phrase “Believe You Can.” The charity he chose was the Hilinski’s Hope Foundation, which promotes awareness and education for student-athlete mental health.
“We had known a little bit of Omar’s story in the past,” Borgmann said. “So when we heard that was a charity that he wanted to go forward with, we thought it was a perfect match.”
Manning is looking to continue to grow throughout the rest of the season. That’ll mean continuing to be better for himself, along with the people around him.
“Just to capitalize on that, the momentum I built for myself,” Manning said. “Just step by step, continue to get better as a player and a better teammate.”