The Town of Dyer has a subdivision named Sandy Ridge, where streets such as Old Beach Road, Rolling Hill Drive and Boulder Road are home to well-supported, goal-oriented children.
Between Boulder and Rolling Hill lies a nondescript plot of several acres of grass. Devoid of much equipment, save for a few playground accessories in the northwest corner, it’s a park.
More than a decade ago Ball State football player Dan Manick began regularly cutting from his Flint Court home and roaming that park with his neighborhood friends. They called themselves, simply enough, the Sandy Ridge Crew.
“I could name them all, but they know who they are,” Manick said. “We were always in the park playing football, playing baseball. We loved all the sports, and we were always doing so much.”
Manick says he wasn’t the best athlete or even best football player from his neighborhood. Nonetheless, he is the last one from the group playing organized sports.
This week he partied on a different type of sandy ridge, the beaches of St. Petersburg, Fla., where the Cardinals (9-3) have been dividing their time between practice and play as they prepare for the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl tonight against Central Florida (9-4).
“It’s a great feeling to know I’ve got one more college football game,” the fifth-year senior out of Lake Central said. “It’s a big one. It’s down in Florida, and it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
Manick was a redshirt freshman in 2008, the last year Ball State went to a bowl, losing 45-13 to Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl. The Cardinals are 0-5 all-time in bowl games.
Manick, who has appeared in 43 games with 37 starts, never liked to lose.
Transportation from mom, hulking genes and encouragement from dad and frequent fights with an older, bigger, martial arts-practicing brother shaped Manick’s home life. He admits, however, that he is who he is today because of those local comrades.
“I was born with athletic ability and lucky I was tall enough,” Manick said. “The desire to be better and play harder came from those neighborhood friends.”
At 6 feet, 4 inches, and 290 pounds, Manick has the size to latch on with an NFL team either during or after the April draft. Thus, he won’t deem this his true “last game.”
The biochemistry major is part of an offensive line composed of four seniors and a junior, a unit that has been together for most of the last four years. The linemen lived together during the summer. They have been through three strength coaches.
They’ve squatted until they puked. They’ve flipped tractor tires down the field, they’ve held a piece of PVC pipe and rope attached to a 45-pound plate and slowly rolled the weight down and back from the top of the stadium, some 200 feet above the ground.
“It’s our last game as Cardinals,” Manick said. “It will be a little emotional, but I think I’ll be all right.”
It almost didn’t end this way. On Oct. 20 against Central Michigan, Manick snapped the ball, and the guard to his left, one of his best friends, pancaked his defender, and the two landed on Manick’s ankle.
The injury forced him out of that game and the next three with a sprain similar to the one that cost him several games a sophomore.
“I had about 600 pounds of human being land on my ankle,” Manick said.
“I was surprised it was not broken. That was the best news possible. I heard two loud pops. I’ve never broken a bone, but I’ve sprained my ankle, and it was never like that.”
He had to watch from the sidelines as Ball State won its third through fourth games of its current six-game winning streak, including a nationally televised affair against Toledo.
Now Manick is seeking the perfect end to a season in which the Cardinals have scored 35 points per game with 214 yards rushing and 257 passing per game.
"It's been great," BSU offensive line coach Nick Tabacca said. "The fan base, especially the student fan base has been outstanding. … It definitely puts added incentive to play well."
The 10 sacks allowed by the Cardinals is tied for eighth-fewest in the nation.
“(This game) is important for our conference and Ball State football,” Manick said. “(The MAC) has been seen as the Big Ten’s little brother, and the Big Ten beats on us. But the last few years it hasn’t been the case. It’s been more in the MAC’s favor, especially this year.”
Ball State owns a three-game win streak against Indiana, which didn’t recruit Manick. The Cardinals won on the final play in Bloomington this fall.
Recruited to play defense and switched to offense after Brady Hoke left for bigger paydays, Manick moved to offensive tackle, then switched to guard eight practices before the 2009 season opener and false-started on the first play of his very first start.
He’s gone from guard to tackle and this year to center, the spot typically reserved for college teams’ best lineman. All that is left to accomplish is a bowl victory.
“It might be my last game of football, so I’m going to leave it all on the field,” Manick said. “Obviously I want the win. It’s more important to know I put forth my best effort.”