How winless Manual has 3 players with college football dreams

Dave Eminian
Journal Star

PEORIA — Manual football is more than its 0-8 record. 

The Rams are running backs Tristen White and B.J. Cranford. And receiver Shakeel Thomas, too.

They are a trio of good players bravely navigating through a difficult season, and under coach Dan Fauser they are trying to get themselves a shot at college football.

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White had a college visit already this season, although he now is done for the year with a broken ankle suffered in Week 6. He has legitimate hopes to play football at the college level.

In a year where they haven't been able to get a win, seniors Cranford and Thomas are determined to get an opportunity to keep playing.

"I'm going on a football visit to Missouri Baptist on Nov. 6," said Thomas, excited. "I want to play there. Football is life to me. The field is my home."

Manual’s Shakeel Thomas runs with the ball on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Peoria Stadium. Peoria Notre Dame defeated Manual 53-14.

Thomas didn't start playing football until he was a freshman. His development is at a frenzied pace. It's not easy to be seen when you are on an 0-8 team. Not easy to avoid a let down, either.

"Its been a tough season," Thomas said. "But Coach Fauser, all our coaches, have invested in us and kept us going."

Cranford's father, Jerome, played for Fauser at Manual back in the 1990s. 

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His son caught a pass in the left flat and raced 77 yards down the left sideline for a highlight-reel touchdown Friday, a bright spot in a blowout loss to Notre Dame at Peoria Stadium.

B.J. Cranford put on two slick moves and then turned on raw speed to burn the Irish defense. The speed is no surprise to those who know the athlete. Cranford is a track sprinter, and a good one.

"Top 5 in Illinois in the 200," he said. "I love track, I love football. I already had a visit to Monmouth for college track. I've been invited back to Monmouth for a football visit (Oct. 23)."

Peoria Notre Dame’s Charles Dawson tries to escape Manual’s B.J. Cranford on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021 in Peoria Stadium. Peoria Notre Dame defeated Manual 53-14.

Cranford has been playing football since he was in fifth grade, following his younger brother into the game.  

On the track, his 11.17-second effort in the 100 dash at the IHSA Class 2A state championships last June was 15th. He had the sixth-best 100 time among Peoria-area runners. His :22.65 in the 200 was No. 1 among area runners.

"I want to go to college and play both football and track," said Cranford, a Green Bay Packers fan. "That’s my dream."

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So what do you say to kids on an 0-8 team who have dreams of getting to a higher level?

"You just make yourself better every day on the field and in the classroom," Fauser said. "The goal is to help these kids make themselves better people and build a future."

Dave Eminian is the Journal Star sports columnist, and covers Bradley men's basketball, the Rivermen and Chiefs. He writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for Reach him at 686-3206 or Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.