How Louisiana football linebacker Chauncey Manac grew from 'childish' Cajun to NFL hopeful

Tim Buckley
Lafayette Daily Advertiser

Before the 2021 season began, Chauncey Manac faced a life-altering choice.

He needed surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back.

So much could so wrong. His Louisiana football playing career could be done, his NFL dreams dashed. Or he could continue playing in pain, as he had for much of his first three years with the Ragin’ Cajuns.

Manac opted for the operation, performed by a renowned Dallas spinal surgeon.

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“It was a hard decision,” Manac said, “but I felt like I had to get it done.

“I was worried, nervous, because going into something like that you don’t know what the outcome is going to be.”

Now Manac’s happy he had the surgery.

Chauncey Manac, shown during a 2021 win over Ohio at Cajun Field, is an NFL prospect who will play in Saturday's NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Manac had 57 tackles last season, 14.5 for loss including 10.5 sacks. The outside linebacker caught the attention of NFL scouts. And Saturday (5 p.m. CT, NFL Network), joined by former UL inside linebacker Ferrod Gardner, he’s slated to play in the 10th NFLPA Collegiate Bowl at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.

Gardner, UL’s No. 2 tackler last season, was thrilled to receive the  invitation.

“It was just a blessing, a great feeling for all the hard work I put in over time,” said Gardner, a seventh-year senior who began as a redshirt walk-on at Missouri before transferring to Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College in 2016 and UL in 2017.

Coach (Billy) Napier actually kept giving me a signal throughout practice (about good news), but he wouldn’t tell me exactly what it was. … Once we finally talked about it and I saw the paper and I saw my name and I saw what it said, it was just an unbelievable feeling.”

The understated Manac was similarly excited.

“If you would have told me three or four years ago that I have a chance to go to the league, I would have laughed,” he said. “It’s crazy.”

A product of Clinch County High in Homerville, Georgia, Manac was on scholarship but redshirted at Georgia in 2016. He went to Garden City Community College, then found his way to UL for Napier’s first season in 2018.

Manac compiled 166 tackles including 34 for loss in 45 games over four seasons and left Napier quite a gift the day before leaving the Cajuns to coach Florida.

Manac had six tackles with 2.5 for loss including a sack and a forced fumble in the Cajuns’ Dec. 4 Sun Belt Conference championship game win over Appalachian State.

“I’m excited for him,” Napier said.  “He’s going to get a chance to pursue his dreams.

“He’s why you coach – for guys like that. Just to see him grow up as a person is pretty awesome.”

When Manac arrived at UL, Napier said, he was an inconsistent practice player.

But, long at 6-foot-3 and a listed 247 pounds, he left as a strong edge rusher who’s solid at the point of attack in the run game and has a true knack for getting to the quarterback.

Manac admittedly said he was “childish” early in his career at UL.

“I feel like I outgrew all that,” he said, “and I just locked in.”

He credits Napier and defensive coordinator/outside linebackers coach Patrick Toney, who followed Napier to Florida, for “just pushing me to be a four-dimensional player, knowing what I have to do, knowing my job and executing at a high level.”

“I would say everything worked out,” Manac said, “in a good way.”