David Manning was nearly bounced from his bounce-back season before it even began.
After sitting out 2015 because of a torn meniscus in his right knee, the defenseman for the Loyola Maryland men's lacrosse team returned for his redshirt senior campaign. But he tore the meniscus in his left knee in October, underwent arthroscopic surgery in November, re-injured the same meniscus two months later, and got his knee scoped just five weeks before the team's season opener at Virginia on Feb 13.
"I didn't really get to practice that much this fall," Manning said. "I was rehabbing it and then jumping right into the season. Luckily, I have great coaches that made me watch a lot of film, and I just prepared mentally. So it feels great to be back out on the field."
The No. 17 Greyhounds (5-3 overall and 2-1 in the Patriot League) – who welcome conference rival Bucknell to Ridley Athletic Complex in Baltimore on Saturday at 1 p.m. – are just as grateful for Manning's return.
Manning ranks third on the team in caused turnovers with eight and also has collected eight ground balls. With Manning in the fold, the defense currently ranks 20th in Division I at 8.9 goals per game after surrendering 10.3 goals last year.
ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said Manning won't remind anyone of Joe Fletcher, perhaps the most gifted defenseman produced by Loyola, but he remains invaluable to the team's defensive strategy.
"He's a leader and a really good communicator," said Carcaterra, a former All-American Syracuse midfielder. "I don't think he's the type of guy who will go out and blanket an alpha-male attackman. But from a team defensive standpoint and leadership, he's much needed for them. … He's more like a leader in there, a traffic cop-type guy that makes a defense better as a whole because he gets them on the same page."
At 6 feet 3, 215 pounds, Manning is the team's most physically imposing defender, and he's not shy about using his size to his advantage. In his first workout in the fall, he knocked down a freshman midfielder brave enough to attempt an alley dodge. And in a 15-6 loss to then-No. 7 Duke on March 12, he crashed into 6-5, 240-pound senior midfielder Myles Jones.
A Chapel Hill, N.C. native, Manning – who wears the No. 59 in honor of Carolina Panthers middle linebacker Luke Kuechly – said he tries to channel his favorite NFL player when he's on the field.
"I kind of have that mentality," Manning said. "I want to hit, I want to be physical, and I want to be an enforcer. I know I'm not the fastest kid. So if I can lay a body and get the energy going on the sideline, that's what I'll do. I'm looking to slide, leave a stick, finish the body, and send a message to the other team."
Fifth-year senior short-stick defensive midfielder Mike Kutzer said he and his teammates get riled up when Manning delivers a big hit.
"Obviously, he's not out there to hurt anybody," Kutzer said. "But it's something that can give the defense energy and the team energy, especially when it's at a crucial point of a game. It can really shift the momentum. It's always good to have someone like that on your defense and especially a leader who's willing to throw his body around and sacrifice for the team."
Returning to the Greyhounds has been a physical and mental adjustment for Manning. In 2014, he played alongside Fletcher, defenseman Pat Frazier and goalkeeper Jack Runkel. Two years later, Manning has been teamed with junior Jack Carrigan and sophomore Foster Huggins on close defense and freshman Jacob Stover in the net.
"It's been kind of learning process throughout the season, but they're great guys, great players," Manning said. "They sometimes teach me as much as I teach them. It goes both ways."
The defense's youth is exactly why Manning's presence is significant, according to Loyola coach Charley Toomey.
"David brings leadership," he said. "David is a guy that settles things down in there. Kind of being on that sideline and being injured last year, it probably has helped him because when things are breaking down, he's the voice in that huddle. So he knows from the sideline what the coaches are saying and what needs to be said out there. I'm just real happy with watching him play the ball."
Manning was selected in January by the New York Lizards in the fifth round of the Major League Lacrosse draft. A long-time admirer of former Syracuse long-stick midfielder Joel White and former Greyhounds defenseman Reid Acton, Manning gave himself a B-minus for his play thus far.
"I still think I have a long way to go, but I'm playing OK," he said. "I'm just trying to get my feet under me and get into better shape. I think in May, I'll be a much different player than I am now."
Manning said he likes the defense's potential, but the ultimate goal is adding a NCAA Division I title to the one the program captured in 2012 when he played in just two games as a freshman.
"We have great kids in the locker room," he said. "We have great character. That two-game losing streak kind of hurt, but it also brought us together. Anything can happen. The parity in college lacrosse right now is amazing. So anything can happen, and I think we can do it."