Brandon McManus knows the pressure of attempting to kick a football through the uprights in a stadium filled with 80,000 screaming fans. He would take that every time over the stress of conducting a major golf championship.
“With a field goal, you have a long snapper and a holder, but it really has everything to do with yourself,” said McManus, 23, who kicked for the Denver Broncos last season. “When you’re running a championship, you’re relying on a lot of other people to do things. It’s more of an anxious stress. I’d much rather have the stress of the kicker, because at least I have full control of it.”
McManus can compare the two occupations because he has spent the past three weeks helping out in a variety of roles at the 70th U.S. Women’s Open, at Lancaster Country Club. The opportunity came about through a cooperative effort between the National Football League and the USGA, which tailored an internship for McManus through the NFL Career Development Program.
“We talked with Brandon about what he might want to do and tried to make it as all-encompassing for him as possible,” said Matt Sawicki, the Women’s Open championship director for the USGA. “He’s worked so hard, whether it was moving boxes or going out with the greens crew before the sun has risen. There’s a reason why professional athletes like Brandon make it – it’s because they’re willing to put in the time and the effort to make it happen.”
McManus grew up in Lansdale, Pa., about 30 miles northwest of Philadelphia, and he set school records at Temple University for career points while earning All-Big East honors. His post-NFL career goal is an ambitious one – he would love to be the director of operations for the Super Bowl. In the meantime, the 70th U.S. Women’s Open Championship has provided a superb window into the challenges of conducting a major sporting event.
“That’s why I’m doing this, even though I’m in the younger part of my career,” said McManus, who plays to an 8 handicap and says golf is one of his favorite sports. “I always want to have my options open. You never know what could happen, some kind of freak accident, so I want to create my path after football.”
McManus has also taken a commendable path off the gridiron, having cofounded the Anti Bully Squad, a group with the goal of creating a permanent solution to bullying through education, advocacy, awareness and prevention. Among the other board members are pro athletes, actors and comedians, but McManus helped to get the ball rolling when he was made aware of a child with Down syndrome in Denver who had been taunted by neighbors while playing football in his yard. McManus visited the boy and played catch with him, triggering his deeper involvement.
“I couldn’t believe the story, hearing about the monsters who lived next to this boy,” said McManus, who earned national honors for his community service at Temple. “We played catch, he enjoyed himself and when I saw the smile on his face, the family’s appreciation… I kept hearing more and more stories of similar things.”
Another story that resonated with McManus, who has spoken to thousands of Denver-area youngsters on the topic, involved a boy who was bullied for being short, his growth having been stunted by undergoing chemotherapy.
“I sent him a video message of support, and then I learned that he was from the same hometown and same elementary school as me – he even went to the same pizza shop my sister used to work at,” said McManus. He organized a charity kickball event to raise awareness of the issue, noting that the problem has evolved over time.
“Those from an older generation would say that there are always bullies – you have to learn from it and get through it,” said McManus. “But today with social media and the Internet, there are a lot more angles and avenues that they can attack you from, and your parents may not even be aware of it. We’re trying to raise awareness for kids who may not be comfortable talking to their parents. Reach out to us and we will find somebody in your area to discuss the situation with.”
McManus faces a professional battle in a few weeks when he reports to the Broncos’ training camp. He was signed by the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and spent the preseason with them, picking the brain of Adam Vinatieri – a three-time Super Bowl champion with two title-clinching kicks on his resume – before being waived. He joined the New York Giants last summer, and the Giants traded him to Denver on the eve of the 2014 season.
McManus made 9 of 13 field-goal tries and all 41 extra-point tries for the Broncos before he lost that role late in the season, but he truly shone in the kickoff game, where he was among the league leaders in touchbacks. He hopes to take on both responsibilities under new head coach Gary Kubiak.
“I went through a bumpy patch in the middle of the season,” said McManus. “I need to get a little more accurate and keep consistent with my kickoffs if I want to stay in this league for a long time. I just need to prove to them that I am worth keeping around.”
Said Josh Brown, the Giants’ placekicker, after beating out McManus in the 2014 preseason: “He’s going to be a 10-year [kicker], easily. He’s got that kind of talent and he’s got that kind of head on his shoulders.”
McManus brought the same diligence to his internship in Lancaster, where he has worked with the teams responsible for operations, course setup and agronomy, as well as serving as a walking scorer for one of the championship groupings.
“It was cool to be under the radar compared to my usual job, walking behind the three professionals,” said McManus.
His eyes were opened by a tour of the layout with the USGA’s Ben Kimball, who sets the course up for the Women’s Open.
“He had this kid-in-a-candy-store moment,” said Sawicki. “He had never realized the amount of thought that goes into course setup, the strategy that’s involved, how you want the players to react. I think that was his ah-ha moment.
“I don’t think if you walked through an NFL locker room you would meet too many guys like him,” continued Sawicki. “He has the kind of aspirations to be willing to drive from Philadelphia in March to sit through volunteer meetings, just to listen and learn something that he doesn’t know.”
McManus is hoping to put what he has learned to immediate use.
“I’m playing the course tomorrow,” said McManus. “I’ve learned where to be and where not to be. I feel like I know every inch of this place after three weeks on-site, so hopefully it will help me.”
Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.