After watching his meteoric rise from Penn State running back to NFL superstar, a lot of Pennsylvania high school backs want to be like Saquon Barkley once they get under the Friday night lights.
Northeastern High junior running back Manny Capo, however, is more concerned with becoming the person that Barkley is when he isn’t playing football.
“Off the field, he’s a humble guy and I try to be that person too,” said Capo, who considers Barkley a role model. “You can be cocky, but you don’t want to be too cocky. You want to stay humble, because we haven’t gotten anything yet.”
What Capo does have is the title as the York-Adams League player with the most rushing yards through the first five games of the season with 962 yards and 11 touchdowns during the Bobcats’ 5-0 start.
Despite the tremendous success he and his team had in the first half of the season, Capo isn’t satisfied and knows there is more work to be done to reach the team’s goals.
Born to ball: The passion to continue to improve for Capo is something he said has always been inside him since he first played football around 4 years old.
“Ever since I was little it has just been like encrypted into me,” Capo said. “It’s kind of like ever since I was little, I have had football DNA in me and that just made me want to keep pushing and pushing to get to where I need to be.”
For Capo, the motivation to treat every snap like it’s the most important he will ever play comes easy after how he earned his role as the Bobcats’ starting running back.
Last season, Capo was not expected to have a major role for Northeastern because the team had a senior playing running back. After an injury, Capo stepped in and gained valuable experience, but Northeastern coach Jon Scepanski and his staff already knew the talent Capo possessed.
“We saw it in his sophomore year, even before he took over that starting role,” Scepanski said. “We would talk as coaches (and say), ‘He’s going to be a good one.’”
Becoming a leader: Capo served as the lead back and ran for 862 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2018. While he learned a lot on the field as a sophomore, taking over as running back taught Capo that everyone on the team has a role and each player needs to be ready to enter the game at any time.
“We always say, ‘You’re one play away,’ and for him that one play happened,” Scepanski said. “He gets that through to our younger guys and lets them know that just because you’re on the scout team doesn’t mean that you’re not valuable to this football team. Every day he’s leading by example on the field and off the field.”
Scepanski added that Capo’s experience during his sophomore season created a player who, like Barkley, shows his teammates in games and in practice that what really matters is whether or not the team is getting better.
“He doesn’t worry about anything except for, 'what’s my job on this team and how can I help the team win?' He’s not a selfish person at all,” Scepanski said. “(When) we need a guy on scout team, he’s going to be one of the first ones to run out there. It’s not, 'I am too good for that' or anything.”
Division I dreams: Capo’s goal is to play NCAA Division I college football after he graduates. The 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior attended some college camps last summer and Scepanski has reached out to college coaches to bring attention to Capo’s success.
The Bobcats’ coach said he talks with Capo about not getting caught up in who has scholarship offers and just focus on playing football and it will all work out.
His role model, Barkley, was not initially highly sought after as a prospect. He was ranked the No. 291 recruit in ESPN’s top 300 recruits of the 2015 class.
To achieve his goal of playing football in college, Scepanski said Capo has become a more mature person and focused on his grades. One thing that helps Capo with that is a subject he enjoys — art.
In his free time, as a way to detach from football, Capo likes to draw and said he enjoyed the art class he took at Northeastern.
“It gets me more relaxed,” Capo said. “When I am in school, it makes me focus more.”
Just the beginning: Despite the personal and team success he and the Bobcats have had on the field this season, Capo remains locked in on winning each game one at a time.
As the rushing yardage total and number in the win column climb, Capo, humble at every turn, sets his sights on making sure all the statistics mean something when the season is over.
“The more we win games, the more you have a big target on your back,” Capo said. “We’re just trying to focus on each week and get better. We still haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.