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Respect Sun Devils QB Manny Wilkins for what he is

Arizona State quarterback Manny Wilkins (5) looks to pass the ball against Washington during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Manny Wilkins won’t be remembered as the greatest quarterback in Arizona State football history.

The Sun Devils are 11-12 in the games he has played over the past two seasons, they do not have a bowl win, his head coach (Todd Graham) was fired after last season and external expectations are low for his senior season under new coach Herm Edwards.

While Wilkins may never measure up to Danny White or Jake Plummer, Plummer is both a big fan and a big believer in the kid whose beard rivals his own.

“A great leader and a tough-as-nails kid,” Plummer said. “He’s due to have a breakout season this year. Just watch. The surprise of the Pac-12.”

Plummer sent Wilkins a text message on Thursday to encourage him to set the tone for the program, be a leader and have fun. He has sent similar messages to other Sun Devil QBs including Andrew Walter, Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici, but there is something a little different about his connection to Wilkins. He sees a bit of himself in ASU’s current QB.

“When everything was said and done, I just wanted to be known as a competitor that never gave up and that’s where the inspiration for a team comes from,” Plummer said. “It’s easy to get down. It’s easy to let the highs and lows of the game dictate how you approach the series, whether that’s offensively, defensively or from one special teams play, but if you’ve got a guy like him that is scrappy, tough and kind of a nasty competitor, you’ve always got a chance.”

“He doesn’t throw the ball out of bounds much or lay down. He’s always fighting for extra yards, so much so that he throws himself in positions to get hurt. He takes hits and he gets crumpled and piled on and boom! He just pops up. When you’ve got a teammate like that, it’s hard to go 99 percent. Everyone else is called upon to go 100 percent and make it matter, make it mean something. If you’ve got a leader like that — and he is unquestionably the leader of this team –you’ve got a good chance for good things to happen.”

Wilkins hasn’t enjoyed the talent around him that Plummer had in the Sun Devils’ 1996 Rose Bowl season. That’s nothing new. Wilkins has faced hurdles since childhood, whether it was overcoming the death of his father, multiple moves, troubled teen years or competition from Alabama transfer Blake Barnett last season. All of those experiences have steeled Wilkins for what comes next, but they have also produced a maturity in his mental approach, reflected in everything from his candor with media, his unabashed profession of love for his girlfriend, Evyn Murray, his ability to shrug off critics and his ability to shrug off bad plays.

“It’s easy for people to have a victim’s mentality,” he said. “It’s easy for people to blame others for mistakes, easy to blame others for change. I just embrace it. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. God has placed me where I am for a reason. I worked my ass to get where I am for a reason so I’ll be damned if I let somebody come in and try to take what I feel like I’ve worked for.”

Plummer experienced his share of change at ASU, with four quarterbacks coaches in four years, but Wilkins has had four offensive coordinators; the latest Rob Likens.

“I don’t know what that’s like because we kept the same philosophy,” Plummer said. “They changed the offense on him.”

Wilkins was not happy when Graham was fired, but he vowed to embrace the new staff and Edwards made it plain from Day 1 that Wilkins would be his guy. Edwards has been impressed by what he’s seen through spring ball and the first week of fall camp.

“It’s his fortitude, his ability not to be caught up in situations that are not of his own doing,” Edwards said. “Sometimes, the circumstances you’re in are not due to you being the cause of it but how do they affect you? He’s a guy that has a wonderful story. If any player wants to know his story, he’s the guy who can talk to you about, ‘don’t start feeling sorry for yourself.’”

Wilkins knows external expectations for the Sun Devils are low this season, but he trivializes all those projections as “chit chat.”

“I can look at it as, people are not expecting a bunch so if we do something crazy then it’s bigger, but in reality, it doesn’t matter what they think,’” he said. “All the outside stuff is outside for a reason.”

Plummer isn’t making any predictions when it comes to the Sun Devils’ record this season, but he does see potential where others do not.

“Playing six years with the Cardinals, I was the most optimistic dude in the world,” Plummer said, laughing. “I thought every year we had a shot. That’s just my nature and I think the Sun Devils have to believe that. Why wouldn’t you? They’ve got that new building, the stadium will be done, Herm Edwards is there, there’s a buzz and I just see Manny as being a special player.

“He’s been behind the scenes with [Josh] Rosen and[Sam] Darnold and all these quarterbacks, but here’s Manny doing his biz and I think it’s time for him to have a breakout season. I love his playmaking ability. He can move and make things happen and with the weapons he has outside, you get that second chance to make a wrong play right. Fans should bear with him because he might throw a couple picks but there could be some of those exciting, come-from-behind moments because there is a competitor driving the bus that isn’t going to stop. I’m in his corner no matter what.”

Barring injuries, Wilkins is likely to climb into the top five for career passing yards at ASU. With a good season, he could pass Plummer and finish third. There will be plenty of stories dissecting his mindset, his play and his place in ASU history as the season progresses, but Wilkins asks little of the Sun Devil fan base.

“The thing I hate about having those type of articles when somebody wants to write a story on how [I] feel is it makes it look like I care what people think,” he said. “I really don’t. I really couldn’t care less if somebody likes me or doesn’t like me as long as I am respected. No matter who I meet, no matter if it’s a janitor, reporter, teammate or my coach, I try to treat everybody with the same amount of respect because I feel that if you give somebody respect they’ll show you respect back.

“I’m trying my best to just be respected when I leave here.”

ASU’s career passing yardage leaders:
1. 10,617 – Andrew Walter (2001-04)
2. 10,491 – Rudy Carpenter (2005-08)
3. 8,827 – Jake Plummer (1993-96)
4. 8,819 – Taylor Kelly (2011-14)
5. 6,912 – Ryan Kealy (1997-00)
6. 6,717 – Danny White (1971-73)
7. 6,610 – Jeff Van Raaphorst (1984-86)
8. 5,761 – Paul Justin (1987-89)
9. 5,599 – Manny Wilkins (2014-18)
10. 5,332 – Mike Bercovici (2011-15)

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