Chauncey Manac: An American success story

L-R: Beth Leviton, Chauncey Manac, Deloris Willis, Ashton Manac.

HOMERVILLE – In the picture that Chauncey Manac posted to Facebook, he has his right arm draped around one lady, and his left around another. His younger brother Ashton is also in it. The two women are white. The two brothers are, well, they’re white, too. But they’re also black, and Native American.

But the first Facebook comment underneath the picture indicated someone saw something else.

“That grandma loves them two boys,” he wrote.

There’s a reason Chauncey Manac is smiling so widely in this picture. Taken last month at his high school graduation, he seems to have everything now — a football scholarship at Georgia, a family that raised him to be a well-adjusted man. He knows it could have gone the other way.

Before this amazing American – and Deep South – success story reached this chapter, there was chaos. And there was a conversation that, looking back, was amazingly short. It was prefaced by another, longer talk.

Deloris Willis, the grandmother, was at home alone when her son Donny Manac called. Things were bad. Donny had two young boys, Chauncey and Ashton. Their mother had given up and gone away. Donny had his own troubles. Someone — they didn’t know who — had turned them in to the Department of Family and Child Services.

“Will you help me raise the children?” Donny asked his mother.

Willis took a deep breath. She thought a moment or two, then told him she’d have to ask her husband, Tillman Willis – known as Papa T – who was at work. Willis had married Papa T after the death of Manac’s father.

Papa T got home, and Willis just put the same question to him: Can we raise Chauncey and Ashton?

“Yeah,” Papa T said. “We’ll go get them.”

Origin stories

First a geography lesson. Then a history lesson.

Homerville, a town of just over 2,000 people, is a short drive from Georgia’s border with Florida. That’s where Beth Leviton, the other woman in that picture, lives with her own two children, and occasionally over the past few years with the two nephews who might as well have been her own sons.

Fargo, a town with only 321 people according to the most recent census, is about a half-hour away. That’s where Willis lives, and where she raised those same two boys as her own.

Chauncey Manac is the product of a lot of history. (SETH EMERSON/AJC)

The Creek Indians – also known as the Muscogee Indians – were among the first tribes to be “civilized” in the 18th century. At the time they were among the many viewed unfavorably by President Andrew Jackson. They were indigenous to the Deep South, where many remain, while others were forcibly removed to Oklahoma.

Moniac was originally the name of one Creek family, which moved from Alabama to Louisiana, and then a segment moved back east, settling in Fargo. Somewhere along the way they changed their surname to Manac. He isn’t sure why.

He was the sixth and last of Willis’ own children. His father was full-blooded Native American. When he was young, he met and had two children with a black woman.

“Everybody has their ups and downs,” Donny Manac said last week. “I’ve been through a lot of things in my lifetime. One thing just led to the next, and I had got locked up, and his mother, she wasn’t able to stand by herself. She needed some help.”

So she left, and Donny made the phone call to his mother, and asked her to raise his two boys. Why?

“Because they raised me,” Donny said.

The two mothers

Deloris Willis – known as “Ganma” to Chauncey, Ashton and the other grandchildren – became the authority figure. She made them go to church, on Wednesdays as well as Sundays. She taught them manners, and made them stick with it.

“If you stay in my house, you’re going to abide by my rules,” Willis said.

Beth Leviton became more the best friend to the two boys. At first she would just come over to assist but, as time went on, Chauncey moved in with her because of his aunt’s closer proximity to Clinch County High School.

“Her and my grandmother are really like my mothers,” Manac said. “Grandma, she doesn’t put up with nothing. Go to church every Sunday and Wednesday. My aunt, she just understands me. She’s pretty laid back. She’s just the sweetest thing ever.”

Chauncey Manac calls himself laid-back, and others verify that. (SETH EMERSON/AJC)

When something happens to him, his first call is to Beth. His next one is to Ganma.

When football coaches started coming around and calling, it was the reverse: They had to go through Ganma first, then Beth.

“She’s just a good lady, really,” Chauncey Manac said of his aunt. “She knows right from wrong. She knows what to do, what not to do. She really worries about me too much.”

It doesn’t seem like there’s actually much about which to worry. It seems a miraculous really, looking back to the chaos of his first few years, but these days Chauncey comes off as well-adjusted as any teenager. He’s comfortable in his own skin, but not in a boastful way.

That’s the Creek Indian in him, says his father. Proud, but humble and quiet about it.

“They did a terrific job,” said Donny Manac, who still lives in Homerville and speaks with his sons regularly. “They taught him his manners, to be respectful, brought him up in the church. Just being around a loving family. Where he felt loved.”

On to football

Chauncey was always big. His father says they had to take his birth certificate to all his baseball games in middle school. The size comes from his mother, who could not be reached for this story. According to Chauncey, she lives in Atlanta and still texts or speaks with him almost every day.

Football is as big in Homerville and Fargo as it is elsewhere in the South. But Chauncey didn’t start playing until the eighth grade.

“Just to try it out, really, because I was kind of husky,” he said. “I was kind of big, blowed up, so I had to do something.”

Chauncey Manac quickly became a standout at Clinch County High School. (JEFF SENTELL/AJC).

It didn’t take long for the college scouts to take notice. He was still bigger and stronger than his peers, and soon his athleticism was apparent. His first offer came in as a freshman. By his junior year, recruiters zeroed in on him as a linebacker.

“Kind of like a Jordan Jenkins type,” Manac said, pointing to the recently-graduated Georgia outside linebacker, who was drafted in the third round by the New York Jets. “He’s just an overall beast, a competitor. All that good stuff you need in a player.”

But asked if he’s trying to emulate anybody, Manac said he’s trying to “make my own style.”

“When I get there, I really just want to show everybody my work ethic, to listen and show everybody I’m coachable,” Manac said.

Mike Bobo was the first Georgia coach to recruit Manac, but after Bobo’s departure to Colorado State, he ended up bonding with outside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer, who Manac found down to earth and easy to talk to. Manac has ended up confiding in Sherrer and going to him with things.

Ray Drew is somebody else that Manac talked with occasionally. Drew gave him some advice after Bulldogs coach Mark Richt left, to weigh his options and see what Georgia still had to offer. Manac did that, and never really wavered on his decision.

Manac enrolled at Georgia earlier this month. He may or may not play much as a freshman, but long-term has the potential for stardom.

“I’m proud of him,” Willis said. “We’ve taken him under our wings and tried to do our best with him. And he turned out pretty good, I think.”

The new normal

It’s late April, another hot day in south Georgia, and Chauncey Manac is sitting in the stands at Clinch County High School, arms draped on the bleachers behind him. He’s sweaty after working out, and his hair is soaked.

He wears his hair in a modern style, kind of cupped, and tinged in different colors. It seems appropriate, given his multi-racial background.

What race does he consider himself?

“I guess … Indian,” he says after a few moments, then nods. “Indian.”

Then he smiled.

“White.

“Black.

“All of it.”

He laughs.

So when he checks a box on a form, which one does he check?

“Other,” he said.

To the outside world he has the most unique of life stories and families. A multi-racial kid raised by two white women, but still in touch with the parents who didn’t raise him, everything to be angry about but angry about nothing. It’s the most unusual of stories.

But to him it’s just …

“Normal,” Manac said.

And he smiled.

Next Generation is a series of profiles on the individuals who have signed on with the Georgia Bulldogs and will join the team this summer.

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