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'It's way more than me': NU wide receiver Omar Manning opens up about mental health, coming into his own at NU

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Fordham vs. Nebraska, 9.4

Nebraska wide receiver Omar Manning celebrates after making a catch against Fordham on Sept. 4 at Memorial Stadium.

Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel give the four most interesting pieces of information after Monday's Husker press conference.

Omar Manning wants to share his story.

He wants you to hear it, wants other college athletes to hear it, wants anyone trying to unfold the layers of their mental health to hear it, too.

Because he's there, dealing with it every day. And nearly two years after committing to Nebraska, he's pulled himself up from a low point in his life to start becoming the playmaker the Huskers thought he could be, and the man he wants to be away from the spotlight.

"I want to tell my story and help others that are dealing with that. Because it's way more than me," Manning said Monday. "Especially in athletics, student-athletes, a lot of them deal with it. So I just want to tell my story and help others."

It would be easy to see Manning's 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame, hear the deep bass in his voice when he talks, and think he's a typical, imposing, college football player.

There's certainly some truth to that. Manning has been physically dominant at every level — a four-star recruit out of Lancaster High School in Texas, a junior college all-American, and someone who stands out on a field full of college athletes at Nebraska.

But Manning's mental health challenges were always there — as a young man growing up in a rough neighborhood in Dallas, in high school, during his redshirt season at TCU and his two years at Kilgore Community College in Texas.

"I just never noticed it. I thought, that's just the way it is," Manning said. "But I got here, and I was like, 'It might be something else.' So I sought help, and that was major for me."

Nebraska's sports psychology department, led by Dr. Brett Haskell, was the oasis Manning needed. Haskell helped Manning sort out why he was feeling the way he was, he said, and was there "every step of the way" as he began to turn things around.

Steven M. Sipple and Parker Gabriel deliver the latest Two-Minute Drill on Monday at Memorial Stadium.

Manning said he was nervous heading into his first meeting with Haskell. Never before had he talked about his depression with a professional.

"Because I never knew what it was, exactly, in the past, dealing with that. But it was a great experience for me," Manning said.

Nebraska's Athletic Department has poured resources into its sport psychology department in recent years, adding staff and services. People such as Manning are showing how that investment is paying off.

"You have to make sure, and we always will, that you are doing the right thing for student-athletes on and off the field. And that is the most important thing," NU coach Scott Frost said. "Really as a leader we feel like we have two basic duties: that is mission accomplishment and taking care of our team. And neither one is more important than the other. Sometimes you have to walk a fine line between coddling someone too much and knowing when someone has a real issue.

"But when there is a real issue, we want to make sure and get them the help that they need."

Frost's willingness to be patient as Manning discovered and worked through his issues played a role as well.

Manning's on-the-field breakthrough came against No. 3 Oklahoma, when Manning snared a 21-yard touchdown pass to go with a 32-yard grab earlier in the game.

In that moment, Frost's patience during Manning's journey was at the front of his mind.

"When I caught that catch, I automatically thought about him. Because he's a great coach," Manning said. "For him to believe in me and keep pushing me, that was great for me."

Manning has learned how to be patient with himself, and seek help even when he may not feel like it. Injuries that led to a redshirt year at TCU in 2017, and essentially being locked down during last year's pandemic, made things harder. 

Coming to Lincoln helped show him a way out.

"There was a lot about it I didn't understand," Manning explained. "It was completely new for me. And just being all the way open; completely open with it."

Manning has been targeted seven times this season. His stats: seven catches, 132 yards, one touchdown.

That's all well and good, and shows Manning can be the type of playmaker Nebraska's offense needs.

But that's not all Manning is. To his mother, he's just a son doing the best he can in the world.

"She's proud that I'm out here bettering myself and being productive," Manning said. "The football stuff is just a plus to add on to that. But she was extremely happy, I could tell."

Tracey Manning is fully deaf and partially blind, and raised Omar and his sister, LaKisha Potter, in Dallas. Manning said he learned sign language before he knew how to talk, and was so used to signing with his mother that he didn't really talk to others until he was 4 or 5 years old.

When Manning calls his mother on the phone, he speaks to an interpreter who then signs to his mother. His mother signs her response back to the interpreter, who relays the words to Manning.

Tracey Manning has long been Omar's inspiration and has followed her son's journey with pride.

"The things she's dealt with, she's been resilient and strong," Manning said. "Seeing how far she's come in her life, I had no choice to be great; to put my best foot forward."

The first steps in Manning's journey back have been positive. Now that journey continues.

"It's going to be a good story if he keeps on the trajectory that he is on," Frost said. "I like to see guys fight through things and come out the other side. And he is on a good path to do that."

Contact the writer at or 402-473-7436. On Twitter @HuskerExtraCB.


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Assistant sports editor/high schools

A Ravenna native, Chris Basnett joined the Journal Star in 2016 and has more than 20 years of experience covering prep, college, and professional sports.

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