The experiment was not working.
After arriving at Marshall with the expectations that come along with being a four-star recruit, Deon-Tay McManus spent four games watching mostly from the bench, struggling with his transition from wide receiver to tight end.
The switch back was made in late September, a product of Marshall's needing help at wide receiver because of an injury to starter Davonte Allen.
“When we did need Deon-Tay to get back to where he was comfortable, playing wideout, it took the first practice for us to say, ‘OK, this kid could be special for us,’ ” said Marshall wide receivers coach Mike Furrey, who played seven seasons as a wide receiver in the NFL. “He’s proven us right.”
A redshirt freshman, the 6-foot-2, 225-pound McManus finished this season with 26 catches for 422 yards and six touchdowns, showing ability that has Furrey optimistic about the former Dunbar standout’s future.
McManus had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown against Old Dominion on Oct. 4 in his first game back at wide receiver and ended the year with noteworthy performances in the Conference USA championship game and the Boca Raton Bowl.
McManus had four catches for 41 yards and two touchdowns in Marshall’s 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA title game, including a game-winning 5-yard touchdown catch with 1:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.
McManus caught two passes for 47 yards and a touchdown in the Boca Raton Bowl, helping the Thundering Herd (13-1) beat Northern Illinois, 52-23.
“His touchdown catch down at Old Dominion, which was really his first game playing, was just a landmark [realization] that, 'Hey, this kid has the potential to be a great receiver, a very big, physical, Anquan Boldin-type wide receiver,’ ” Furrey said, “and that’s what he’s doing.”
McManus signed with West Virginia in 2012, choosing the Mountaineers over offers from Alabama, Auburn, Maryland, Ohio State and others.
After failing to qualify for West Virginia academically, McManus spent 2012 at Atlanta Sports Academy before signing with Marshall in 2013.
“Everything’s going good,” said McManus, who redshirted last season. “Conference championship first year. I got my number called a couple times. Just out here making plays, just like high school. Just out here having fun and trying to make the best out of it.”
Blocking was McManus’ primary problem at tight end, the main reason McManus played only sparingly at the position after Marshall coaches hoped he could help replace standout tight end Gator Hoskins, who caught 50 passes for 821 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2013.
“I guess they thought I wasn’t ready at the tight end position because it was so new to me,” McManus said. “Blocking really set me back because you can’t be a tight end in this offense if you’re not good at blocking. I had to really get used to blocking inside against linebackers and defensive ends and things like that, and that’s really what set me back from playing on the field.”
At wide receiver, McManus has produced big plays similar to the ones he made so often at Dunbar, getting behind defensive backs and using his size and ball skills to win 50-50 downfield and in the end zone.
McManus had at least one touchdown or at least one catch of 30-plus yards in seven of his 10 games at wide receiver.
While Allen will be back, McManus will have an opportunity to compete for a bigger role heading into next season as Marshall looks to replace leading receiver Tommy Shuler, who had 92 catches for 1,138 yards and nine touchdowns this season.
"I feel as though I have a bright future,” McManus said. “It’s all up to me. I’m just going to keep going out here and giving 120 percent, keep doing what I can do, control what I can control and let the outcome be the outcome.”