MIAMI -- When quarterback EJ Manuel takes the Orange Bowl field Tuesday for his final game at Florida State, his mother will be home in Virginia, recovering from her final round of chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.
The turn of the calendar marks the end of an emotional year for the family. Jackie Manuel was diagnosed shortly before the season, and for EJ, trying to win games became a welcome diversion rather than his primary concern.
More than ever, football also became something to celebrate. Many of EJ’s relatives -- his mom included -- will gather at his grandmother’s house in Virginia Beach to whoop it up as they watch the No. 13-ranked Seminoles play No. 16 Northern Illinois.
And for a few hours, at least, he’ll try not to worry about his mother.
"I’ll be locked in on my last game as a collegiate player," Manuel said. "My mom wants that. This is what you work for. I’m not going to allow our team to fall short."
The Seminoles (11-2) have followed Manuel’s lead all season. He endured his worst game last month against Florida, committing four turnovers in a 37-26 loss. He reached the end zone only once in the Seminoles’ other defeat, a 17-16 loss to North Carolina State. But in Florida State’s victories, he threw 20 touchdown passes with only six interceptions.
The Florida game took place on Parents’ Day in Tallahassee, and Jackie Manuel made the 12-hour drive to attend. Watching Mom and Dad walk onto the field before the game, EJ was overcome with emotion.
"For her to come down and support me for my last home game at Florida State meant the world to me," he said. "That’s why I couldn’t really hold back. I was definitely tearing up. I was like, ‘EJ, stop crying.’ But I couldn’t hold it back."
He declined to blame the heart-tugging occasion for the way he played, however.
"It just happened to be one of those days," he said.
Regardless, Manuel won admiration from his teammates and coaches for the way he has performed this season.
"It has been a tough year for him," offensive coordinator James Coley said. "Whenever you see someone near and dear to you struggling with an illness, especially at a young age, it’s tough. But he persevered through it."