NOVATO, Calif. -- On the San Marin High School campus, a building overlooks the football field.
On that building, a mural runs the length of one wall. It reads: Home Of The Mustangs. The name of the team’s mascot is written in large yellow letters with a green background. Charging horses are painted above the "M" and "S."
On a recent afternoon, not long before San Marin released its students for winter break, Manny Wilkins stood in front of that mural and looked down at the football field.
The 6-foot-2, 172-pound quarterback talked about the taste that is left when a team falls just short of its goal. The Mustangs fell to Napa (Calif.) Justin-Siena, 27-13, in the CIF North Coast Section Division IV championship game.
“The taste is something that ... you want to have it,” he said. “I want to get there as many times as possible. Next year is my last year in high school. I want to go out with a bang and, hopefully, do as much as I possibly can.”
It was a sunny, but chilly, December afternoon and the 2014 recruit wore a Cal beanie and sweatshirt. He set letters from Washington and Washington State on the ground. He is getting interest from schools around the Pac-1, and he has been contacted by Utah State and Nebraska.
But when he thinks about where he has been and where he might end up, he looks at a bigger picture.
Wilkins would rather be a good leader than pile up gaudy stats. He would rather see his teammates get better than haul in personal accolades. He would rather do all the things that lead teams to titles than become a one-man success story.
“Leadership I feel is a big key, especially being a quarterback,” he said. “It’s a very intriguing position. That’s one of my goals, and to have people respect me. I feel respect is a big thing on the field and, when another team respects you, that’s a really good feeling about yourself.”
Wilkins started playing football in Novato when he was about 7. He said he was always a quarterback. His uncle, Chris Casanovas, coached him when he was younger.
Then, toward the end of Wilkins' seventh-grade year, he moved to Texas.
“My mom moved out to Texas, because she found a really good job there that she still has to this day,” Wilkins said.
He spent his freshman year at Missouri City (Texas) Elkins High School. He started to learn the nuances of the spread offense.
“I kind of learned to get under my feet and get going,” he said. “I’ve just been training ever since.”
Wilkins eventually returned to Novato and moved in with his uncle.
“I looked at it and my grades and everything were a lot better when I was out here,” he said. “It was good for me to come back and get myself on a completely positive path, which I feel I’ve been doing lately.”
Things started to come together for Wilkins when he returned to San Marin.
“It’s kind of cliché, but everything truly happens for a reason,” he said. “I feel I’ve been through a lot in life that makes me able to keep pushing myself to where I want to be when I get older.”
During his sophomore season, Wilkins pushed his teammates to a point they weren’t used to. A fierce competitor, “it was almost like the team kind of fractured around him, because they didn’t know how to take it,” San Marin coach Dan Hickey said.
Eventually, Wilkins’ teammates realized where their quarterback was trying to take them. It propelled the program to success in 2012.
“He really picked this team up and kind of put them on his shoulders and they all rallied around him,” said Hickey, who also attended San Marin. “As a coach, that’s the ultimate thing to watch.”
Wilkins piled up 2,335 passing yards and 19 touchdowns as a junior, but he doesn’t pay much attention to his statistics.
“I just want to be able to be a threat and, when I’m a threat, make the guys around me a big threat,” he said.
When asked about the recruiting process, Wilkins said, “When I get older, or next year ... ”
Then he paused.
“It’s weird saying that now,” he said.
While he waits to land his first scholarship offer, Wilkins has started a list of what he wants in a school. He is already looking at the educational opportunities and the environment at schools he is interested in.
“I feel that, whenever my journey ends with football or with sports, period, I want to have an education to back myself up,” Wilkins said. “I want to be able to get into business.
“Definitely, I want to see how the environment is. I don’t want to surround myself with negativity. I want to see if the positivity is there.”
Now that the season is done, Wilkins can spend some more time working on that list.
“I should probably get that done soon, because things will probably be getting serious here pretty soon,” he said.
When asked how he plays the game, Wilkins said: “Slow.” He lives his life the same way. He takes his time, because he wants to enjoy all of the things football and his future have to offer.
“When you think of stuff going too fast, it just goes right by you, especially when you’re playing the game, you want it to go slow, because then it lasts longer,” he said. “Especially for someone who loves the game, you don’t want the season to fly by.”