CORVALLIS — Danny Langsdorf got his first good look at Sean Mannion while on a recruiting trip to California.
Langsdorf, Oregon State's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, stopped in Pleasanton to check out Mannion during football practice at Foothill High School.
The coach was intrigued with this tall, gangly kid who whipped the ball around the field.
Mannion showed not only a strong arm but crisp command in the huddle.
When Mannion came to OSU's camp and stood out among 10 or so future Division I quarterbacks, Langsdorf was sold.
“We thought he was the best of the bunch and we were really excited to get him,” Langsdorf recalled.
Not only did Mannion fit the mold of an elite pocket passer with his size (6 feet 5 inches, 220 pounds) and live arm, but he was a coach's son and spent hours studying football and his position.
Instinct and experience told Langsdorf that he had a special player.
It was hard to know for sure.
Even at the NFL level, getting a great quarterback comes down to educated guesswork and a lot of luck.
First-round busts happen all the time, while Tom Brady and Russell Wilson were found much later in the draft.
“It's a difficult position to project to be a real good player,” Langsdorf said. “There's a lot of intangibles that you can't necessarily see or coach and they've either got it in them or they don't.
“But we thought he had the physical tools and he's a smart kid and he had a great leadership in high school, (so) we thought he could have a chance to be pretty good here.”
Five games into his junior season, Mannion has been better than pretty good for the Beavers.
He put up respectable numbers during his first two seasons, but Mannion has been on a tear this year, shredding defenses for an NCAA-best 2,018 yards and 21 touchdowns.
After passing for 414 yards and an OSU-record six touchdowns against Colorado, Mannion was the first quarterback in the FBS this season to reach 2,000 yards.
He also leads the nation in passing yards per game (403.6) and total offense (390.2 ypg).
Now Mannion has the ability to break down a defense by working through his progressions and often throwing to his second or third options on a play.
“He's just confident right now and he worked so hard this offseason, I expected nothing less,” OSU receiver Brandin Cooks said. “He's a smart quarterback and that's what makes him special.
“He knows where his guys are going to be and he's just special in that category. Obviously, he has a strong arm and he's accurate.”
Defensive backs have their hands full when Mannion is on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Beaver cornerback Rashaad Reynolds does not have to face Mannion in a game, but he knows what his counterparts are going through.
Mannion can pick apart a defense with pinpoint accuracy, and he can show his strength with a rope to the sideline or by hitting a receiver in stride deep downfield.
“He's made a lot of big-time throws,” Reynolds said. “In traffic, you see two guys and he's putting it right between them, dropping it over a (defensive back's) head, things like that. He's made a lot of NFL throws, truthfully. There's not a lot of college guys that are doing that on a consistent basis.”
The numbers are so impressive that a Heisman Trophy buzz has been quietly building.
Ask Mannion about his statistics and you will get a polite response, but he would rather talk about his teammates.
He credits receivers Cooks, Richard Mullaney, Kevin Cummings and the tight ends for making the catches and the offensive line for giving him time to throw.
Mannion lights up when asked about other aspects of football or the Philadelphia Flyers.
Yep, NHL hockey.
Football is his favorite sport, but Mannion became interested in hockey through OSU director of equipment operations Steve “Lightning” McCoy.
“I was watching it and then I could go home and play the (video) game and talk to Lightning about it and he'd tell me all these random things about hockey,” Mannion said. “It's kind of a little hobby of mine, I guess.”
Football is Mannion's passion.
As a starter for most of his first two seasons, Mannion has the experience that slows the game.
“I think I've tried to not make the same mistakes twice,” Mannion said. “I'm just trying to keep working on accuracy, keep becoming the best player I can be. I've been going back and looking at a lot of film, which has helped me, too.
“So I think when you kind of tie all those things together I think that's why I've been playing pretty well.”
Hours of throwing with his receivers after practice and even on weekends throughout the offseason developed chemistry.
Hours watching video of all aspects of the game, from scouting opposing teams to checking out how he is throwing the ball in practice prepared Mannion mentally.
“The thing about Sean is he loves football,” Cummings said. “He loves studying the game, he loves watching film and he loves just being around the game of football, so he takes it very serious. I think that's why he's such a natural, good player.
“What I think has elevated him lately has been his confidence and seeing the field and knowing exactly what coverage the defense is playing and where he needs to throw the ball. He's just a lot smarter football player. He knows what he's doing and he's focused and he's having fun out there.”