Pitt Football: Brashear graduate Manasseh Garner is back home

After two seasons at Wisconsin, Garner eager to be a Panther

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Mechella Garner isn't the type of parent that would force a decision upon her son.

She had heard that Manasseh was thinking about transferring to Pitt after his sophomore year at Wisconsin and made it clear that she was very much in favor of her son coming home after spending two years 600 miles away. At the end of the day, though, it was Manasseh's decision.

Like any good son, he made his mother happy.

"She put it out there that she wanted me to come home, but she was respecting where I was," Manasseh said. "When I finally told her I was going to come home, she was just filled with joy. She's smiling all the time."

Manasseh Garner, a Brashear High School graduate, transferred to Pitt at the end of last August. He sat out last season because of NCAA transfer rules but looks to play a major role in the Panthers offense this season from the tight end position.

More than anything, though, Garner is just glad to be back in his home city, representing the university he grew up rooting for.

"Now that I'm home, it feels good to just see [my family] all the time," he said. "I guess like they say, you never know how much you miss somebody until they're gone."

• • • •

It became evident by Garner's junior year at Brashear that he had the talent to play Division I football. But in the under-recruited City League, would any college coaches notice?

"Being recruited out of the City wasn't easy," Garner said. "I think my coaches did a good job with promoting me and I thank them for that. I think my father [Marcellus] helped me out as well. He took me around, took me to a lot of camps, really went out of his way to make sure I was seen."

Eventually, Garner started getting recruiting letters from Madison, Wis. They piqued his interest because the Badgers wanted him as a tight end, where most other schools saw his 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame at the time as an outside linebacker.

He initially had an offer from Pitt, then coached by Dave Wannstedt, but the coaching staff withdrew the offer after they received some other commitments.

Not that it really mattered, though. As soon as he met with then-Wisconsin tight ends coach Joe Rudolph (now Pitt's offensive coordinator), Garner was sold on the Badgers.

While Madison was far from home, Garner was excited about getting out and experiencing something new. That meant not relying on his parents every day and -- a common challenge for most college students -- budgeting his own money.

"Sometimes my parents would get on me for not calling," Garner said. "My dad used to call and say, 'If you need anything, just let me know.' I was like, 'No, I'm good.' I just took pride in [being independent]."

Garner played in 20 games in two seasons for the Badgers at wide receiver and even a little defensive end. He was part of a team that won two Big Ten titles and went to two Rose Bowls.

After the 2011 season, though, Garner's offensive coordinator Paul Chryst was hired as the head coach at Pitt, and he took three assistants -- including Rudolph -- with him.

Garner wasn't sure how he would fit into new Wisconsin coordinator Matt Canada's plans. Plus, while he loved his time in Madison, he began to miss the familiar feeling of home and family.

His parents encouraged him to make the move to Pitt, but ultimately left it up to him. He went through all of training camp with Wisconsin last year but made the call at the end of last August.

Manasseh Garner was coming home.

• • • •

For most players, the mandatory year of sitting out after transferring is a frustrating wait. For Garner, it was a welcome breather.

He had hernia surgery before the 2011 season but never fully recovered. The year off gave him a chance to get his body in peak condition before his final two years of eligibility.

Still, there were moments that brought pangs of envy of his active teammates. Garner and quarterback Tom Savage -- who also had to sit out last year -- watched most of Pitt's road games together in Oakland.

"Actually seeing their pain in some of the losses, seeing the joy in some of the victories," Garner said. "It was like, 'I want to be a part of this. I want to feel what they're feeling.' I think that was probably the worst thing, just not being able to share that bond that you wanted to share with your teammates."

He finally started practicing with the first team this spring and almost immediately made it clear that he would be a factor in Pitt's offense.

Garner plays a position that's not quite a tight end but also not quite a wide receiver. At 230 pounds now, he's big enough to stay in and block but also athletic enough to line up on the perimeter at receiver.

"I think he relishes the ability to come in and block, and I think he likes being a playmaker on the perimeter," Rudolph said. "I think those are two positives. Some guys don't like to come inside when they can play outside, but he can do all of it for you."

Garner had 10 catches for 100 yards in Pitt's spring game and spent the summer further developing his rapport with Savage, a relationship that started last year with the two of them counting down the days until they could play.

"He's just a great person," Savage said. "He really understands the game. He's on top of his game and he's going to be fun to play with."

• • • •

Garner's move to Pitt goes beyond just football, of course. He gets to see his parents on a regular basis (though maybe not as much as he would like during training camp) and lives just minutes from where he grew up.

Starting Sept. 2 against Florida State, he'll get to wear the jersey that represents his city.

"Being able to wear 'Garner' on my back, wear my number on my back, knowing that 'Garner' and '82' is not for me, but it's for everybody that believed in me, everybody that took time in helping me become who I am today," he said.

As a Pitt fan growing up, Garner saw the rough patches the program went through the past few years, mired in coaching transitions and mediocre results.

The school's move to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the beginning of Chryst's tenure as coach would ideally serve as a clean slate for the Panthers.

One of the dominant headlines of Pitt's offseason has been players leaving the program, but Garner pointed that several transferred in as well. He and former Ohio State defensive end David Durham are in line for starting spots this year, and wide receiver Dontez Ford (Syracuse) and safety Reggie Mitchell (Wisconsin) will sit out 2013 with an eye on playing next season.

Those players believe in the fresh start.

"It's not a coincidence that me and a couple of other players transferred here," Garner said. "We're all walking out of that tunnel [against Florida State] thinking the same thing: It's a new beginning and we've got to do something, man."

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Sam Werner: swerner@post-gazette.com and Twitter @SWernerPG. First Published August 18, 2013 4:00 AM


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