By Nick Veronica
Former Canisius basketball player Chris Manhertz had a tryout with the Buffalo Bills in April and signed a reserve/futures contract with the team on Tuesday.
His version of this story is short and sweet.
“It wasn’t really out of the blue,” Manhertz said Tuesday after watching Canisius beat UMKC, 67-52. “At some point I was going to get reevaluated and I went in and did what I needed to do [on Tuesday]. They liked what they saw and they signed me.”
Manhertz would have no problem letting you believe things were really that simple. He doesn’t like talking about how hard he’s worked for this. But make no mistake: the degree of difficulty was high. The work was hard. And it’s nowhere near finished.
Manhertz had offers to play basketball in Israel and Germany after college but passed them up to focus on football. His last eight months have been dedicated to it.
Manhertz’s brother, Omari, is a defensive lineman at Division II American International College, but Chris never played organized football. He spent his summer studying under Canisius High School football coaches, learning the complexities of the tight end position, and working out at Absolute Performance in the Eastern Hills Mall.
“We watched a ton of film,” Canisius head coach Rich Robbins said. “I just taught him kind of Football 101 — gaps and zones, coverages, how to run routes. We did all that classroom work and then Marty and Matt Glose helped him on the field, ran him through routes, did a lot of stuff with him. They were putting helmets on and running routes against each other, getting off of press coverage.
“He was real humble about it,” Robbins added. “He said, ‘Listen, I don’t know anything about football, I’ve never played football,’ so we started from scratch. I showed him some Wheatley film, some things at tight end, watched some Canisius film with him and then went on the white board.” (T.J. Wheatley is Canisius’ high-profile tight end recruit.)
Manhertz was connected to the Canisius coaches through his agent, Ron Raccuia, a Canisius College booster and a member of Canisius High School’s Board of Trustees who also represents players such as Fred Jackson, Brian Moorman and Terrence McGee and is the president of ADPRO Sports.
Robbins said Manhertz was a great student.
“The guy was there early every day and always wanted to stay after,” Robbins said. “I’d be getting text messages from my wife, we’d all have other stuff to do and he’d be like ‘Hey, how do I run this route, what am I doing here,’ so he was just great.”
Manhertz is 6-foot-5 and was a muscular 235 pounds at the start of his senior season. He said he is now up to 255.
But his athleticism was never in question. People really want to know one thing about him: Can he catch?
“He has gigantic hands and he uses them really well. The guy catches everything,” Robbins said. “He’s got great hands. I was really impressed. When he shakes your hand, his hand, like, wrapped around my hand, and I’m not a small dude.”
So how does he project as a pro?
“He has all the physical tools,” Robbins said. “Blocking and speed of the game, it’s going to be how he adapts to that. The physicality and speed of the game at the NFL level is unbelievable. Coming from basketball to football is a huge transition from that standpoint.
“The parts of basketball that translate to football … he was great with that stuff, it was really stance and start and specific football techniques and learning how to run routes and how to use your feet, those were the types of things we focused on.”
Manhertz said it still hadn’t really sunk in yet that he signed an NFL contract.
“I worked my tail off for months to try to get this done,” he finally admitted. “This is news I expected, personally, knowing how much time I had put in.
“I knew there was interest there, I just had to really sit down and put the time in and really get better. The more I trained, the more I felt comfortable with how I was going to do and how I was going to make a second impression. It went well.”
Manhertz got a locker, an ID badge and a tour of the Bills facility on Tuesday.
“My foot is in the door,” he said. “I have to go through camps, OTAs, that’s a whole other beast. I won’t have my big sigh of relief until after that.”
As they say, hard work has its rewards: more hard work.
“I’m going in there [Wednesday],” Manhertz said. “Now is when the real work begins.”Follow @NickVeronica