HOMERVILLE, Ga. — When Chauncey Manac takes a standardized test, he fills in the “other” oval in the personal category. The UGA commitment is accepting of his unique ethnic background.
“I can go around school and this town and point to people of all races and colors,” Manac said. “I’m related to a lot of them.”
The 6-foot-4 linebacker and defensive end, a 4-star recruit out of Clinch County High School, is the son of a Native American. His mother is African-American and yet he was raised by two Caucasian ladies. That’s his 68-year-old grandmother Delores Willis and his aunt Beth Leviton.
Their story goes beyond the Census terms behind those ovals.
“Chauncey doesn’t really like the spotlight,” Willis said. “He’s not the sort who likes a lot of attention. He’d rather keep to himself.”
Chauncey Manac carries 250 pounds on his frame. He can power clean another 350 and still run the 40 in 4.6 seconds. He is ranked as the nation’s No. 8 defensive end for the Class of 2016. Those are impressive feats, but he would rather see his inner circle get recognized.
“My story isn’t about me,” Manac said. “It is about the women who have raised me. I really owe them just about everything. .. If not for them, I’d probably have been placed in a foster home.”
Willis added an even more precarious fate.
“He’d probably be in (a foster home) or be dead by now,” she said. “His aunt and I just did what anyone who loves their family would do.”
At just 21 months old
Chauncey Manac’s father, Donny Manac, is a Creek Indian. His great-grandparents moved to the Fargo community his family now calls home more than a century ago. That’s when dynamite was used to clear land. Not bulldozers. The Manacs settled there.
Willis had six children of her own, but was asked to take in Manac and his younger brother approximately 15 years ago. Chauncey’s brother, Ashton Manac, is a Clinch County junior lineman who is also a college football prospect.
Leviton and Willis have empowered those lives. Willis said their mother “gave up” on raising Manac and his brother at 21 and 10 months old, respectively.
Child services was about to get involved. Manac’s father drove a log truck and worked long hours. He could not take care of them, and asked Leviton and Willis for help.
Donny, the father, lived in the Willis home with his boys for a time, but eventually moved out. He left them with their grandmother. The Manac boys have been with Willis and Leviton ever since. Leviton usually keeps the boys on the weekend.
“We figure out what we need to do raising them together,” Willis said. “If I have a problem that needs solving with them, then she’ll help me out with it.”
Willis said the boys have only known the “whole story” about their upbringing for about two years. Chauncey Manac said that has only intensified his desire to excel in football and hopes to eventually play in the NFL
“I just want to take care of those two (grandmother and aunt) if I do make it to the league,” Manac said. “Buy them a nice house and a big Cadillac. Make sure they never have a want for anything again.”
Chauncey Manac might have every right to be bitter or angry over his life, but doesn’t see how that would help. He credits his faith.
“I’m a full-fledged Christian,” Chauncey Manac said. “My grandmother and aunt have made sure I am in church on Sunday mornings.”
He calls one “Gammaw” instead of Granny.
“Those two have just meant so much to me,” Chauncey Manac said. “They basically saved us by taking me and my brother in.”
Chauncey’s father still lives nearby and his mother recently came down for a game. They have also been a part of his recruiting visits. Willis said their mother thanked her for doing such a good job raising the boys.
An All-America kid
Chauncey Manac was nominated to play in January’s U.S. Army All-American all-star game, one of the top honors for high school football players. That honor could be seen as that of a quintessential American, but this player’s family photo also covers a cross-section of American culture.
His birth parents are in his life, but they are just not at the center of that photo. Those are the spots that Leviton and Willis have earned.
Race relations need an upgrade in several pockets of America. Clinch County’s football team in rural Southeast Georgia might not be one of them.
There are no cliques among the Panthers. Just a group of young men who are comfortable practicing and playing together and going out for a plate of barbecue afterward.
That sight is fascinating. African American. Caucasian. American Indian. Mexican American. Hispanic. Other. They are just boys with big smiles behind drink cups and cheeks packed with food.
“A child can’t help where he was born and how he has to grow up,” Willis said. “What he does is just try to do the best he can as he’s grown up. We’ve just tried to do the best we can raising him and his brother.”
Clinch County’s football team elected Manac “Mr. Flame,” a title that is generally given to the most popular player. “Mr. Flame” helps light a traditional bonfire every Homecoming.
“I’ve just told him to be who he is,” Willis said. “Don’t be something that you are not. Be a good person and people will like you for it.”
Check out this DawgNation video from earlier this year below. It shows off Manac’s impressive athleticism.
Jeff Sentell covers UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.