Learning from the best: Bolton bears strong influence on Manuel

Daily conversations with Missouri’s best player have helped the sophomore safety start the season strong.
Nick Bolton celebrates a tackle for loss during Missouri's season-opening loss to Alabama on Sept. 26, 2020. SEC Media Portal

When Martez Manuel walks into the locker room at Faurot Field, the first face he sees is the same almost every day: his locker neighbor, Missouri’s leading tackler and the Southeastern Conference’s first-team all-conference linebacker Nick Bolton.

Manuel has spent much of his time this year and learning from Bolton, who will — if he keeps up the dominance from early in the 2020 season — be selected in the first round of next year’s NFL draft. Their conversations happen in large part because Bolton has embraced his role in Manuel’s development.

“He sits right beside me in the locker room, and I try to talk to him every day on the football field as well,” Bolton said. “He’s just a young guy trying to find ways to improve.”

Despite playing different positions, Manuel — a strong safety — has said that he looks to emulate the unquestioned leader of the Tigers’ defense.

“I would say Nick is just a complete floor general, you know what I mean, and I feel like I’ve started to mimic him in a way,” Manuel said. “Like after I tell myself what I do [before a play], I tell the DB’s what they do, I tell the D-line what they do.”

His efforts have certainly shown up in his play through three games. The sophomore has tallied 21 tackles, just one short of linebacker Devin Nicholson for second on Missouri.

“It’s hard to emulate Nick Bolton,” defensive coordinator Ryan Walters said. “I think just the effort with which [Manuel] plays, understanding what his job is and he’s a physical player like Nick is. That is a good guy to try to mimic his habits, his work ethic. Obviously, Martez is a mature kid for his age, so I’m not surprised he’s sought out counsel from an example like Nick Bolton on our team.”

Manuel especially stood out in Missouri’s loss to Alabama, tallying 3.5 tackles for loss. That total remains ahead of everyone else on the team, including Bolton, who took notice.

“I think he thought I played pretty well,” Manuel said. “He complimented me, he’s told me to bring it every week.”

The junior linebacker is renowned for his intelligence — for example, he immediately recognized and blew up LSU’s third down play at the end of Missouri’s upset victory. That’s where Manuel finds his influence most helpful.

“I’m calling things out before they happen and stuff like that, so I feel like Nick is just an extremely wise and smart guy, so I really try to study him and just embrace how he attacks gameday, embrace how he attacks week-by-week,” Manuel said.

To that point, Bolton has raved about Manuel’s “energy and effort” on a weekly basis.

“Those are two unquestionable things I don’t have to worry about with him,” Bolton said. “He just comes in every day and puts in work, tries to compete with himself to get better. And that’s one of the things that I strive to keep pushing him on, just trying to push himself to be better every day, and it translates to the football field on Saturday.”

Missouri has seen the work Bolton has done with Manuel play out on the field in the most crucial situation of the season: the goal-line stand against LSU. On each play, Manuel and Bolton took the exact same edge position on opposite sides of the ball, crashing down from the sides on first and second down.

Manuel’s run-stopping and tackling ability has allowed Missouri to go with their typical three-safety nickel package, even in a first-and-goal situation. This proved crucial on third and fourth down.

On second down, in particular, Manuel was knocked down by a cut block from star receiver Terrace Marshall Jr, got back up, and provided an extra force in the successful effort to stonewall running back Tyrion Davis-Price just long enough for Bolton to pull him back from the goal line.

“I feel like if I can model my game after him, I’m doing something right,” Manuel said.

Edited by Maia Bond | mbond@themaneater.com

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