In 2012, as a senior at Florida State, EJ Manuel posted 3,392 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, 310 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. The Seminoles won 12 games, including the Orange Bowl over Northern Illinois. Manuel's success earned him the 16th pick in the 2013 NFL drafted by the Buffalo Bills.
But Manuel might remember the 2012 season and its aftermath less for his football accomplishments than his mother, Jackie, battling breast cancer at the time. Despite her going through chemotherapy, Manuel kept his focus to register for 291 yards, one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown in the Orange Bowl. Jackie was deemed cancer free in February. In April, she was in New York to watch Manuel become the first quarterback drafted in 2013.
"It definitely put life in perspective on and off the field simply because I never really experienced my parents, or my mom, being seriously sick or ill," Manuel says.
In his professional career, Manuel has not forgotten the struggles his mother endured. In a world where so many children are challenged with the same plight to cope with a parent battling cancer, Manuel wants to do his part. Along with the Redskins' Tyler Polumbus, the Lions' Glover Quin and the Colts' Anthony Castonzo, Manuel is taking part in the 2014 Scoring For Good Program.
Scoring For Good is a program of Camp Kesem, a national organization that provides support to children affected by a parent's cancer. Every summer, Camp Kesem chapters (currently, there are 63 chapters in 29 states) host thousands of children ages 6-16 for an all-expenses paid week of camp. The camps are run by college students who serve as peer leaders during and after the week-long periods.
"I was already an adult when I found out my mom had cancer, so I can't imagine a 13-year-old going through something similar because their parent is the only person they have -- the person they rely on for everything," Manuel says.
Manuel, who is partnering with Camp Kesem for the second straight year in Scoring For Good's second season, will donate $500 for every touchdown -- passing and rushing -- he records in 2014. For reference, Manuel had 11 touchdown passes and two touchdown rushes in 10 games in 2013. Those totals would have warranted a $6,500 check in under this year's pledge. If Manuel plays 16 games, those numbers could earn a considerable bump.
Quin promises to donate $500 for every interception he nabs in 2014. The strong safety had three interceptions in 2013 and has eight career picks in five seasons.
Quin's mother-in-law had a form of lung cancer, and Quin worked with cancer patients in Houston during four years as a Texan. Now, he will translate his on-field performance to his off-field contributions.
"I’m going to go out there and try to get as many interceptions as I can and I’m sure I’ll think about the kids the interceptions help after each game," he says.
Castonzo has pledged his first in-game appearance this season to Camp Kesem and will send a child on Camp Kesem's wait list to camp this August. Currently, 4,000 campers are registered in the 2014 summer with 300 displaced on the wait list. Camp Kesem provides campers with $1,000 to provide one year of services to a child affected by a parent's cancer, while it costs another $500 to give the camper a free week away from home at a chapter.
Polumbus will help support Camp Kesem through his foundation, Tyler's Kids Outreach. Polumbus' organization helps enrich the lives of children through family, faith and personal growth. Polumbus pledges to help support Camp Kesem's new program in Colorado. Like Manuel, Polumbus is a returnee from the first year of the program.
Jim Higley, the chief marketing and development officer for Camp Kesem, notes Camp Kesem, which was founded in 2001, worked with NFL players before the start of Scoring For Good. Initially, Camp Kesem partnered with Tory and Terrence Holt and their Holt Brothers Foundation.
"We saw how the Holts and their fellow NFL players wanted to give back to their communities and were inspired by their work," Higley says.
Higley says Camp Kesem looks for football players with charitable backgrounds in cancer-related causes to join Scoring For Good. Although only four players are signed on now, Scoring For Good is open to including more players as the 2014 season progresses. Higley believes the initial four can spread Scoring For Good's message quickly.
"We hope that our athletes will inspire their fellow teammates this season to join Scoring For Good," Higely says. "Our athletes will all be vocal over social media today and for the rest of the season about their participation and we hope this will raise awareness for the program within the NFL and beyond."
In his sophomore season, Manuel is moving into a more respectful position among his peers. He is primed to spread Camp Kesem's goals.
"WIth my involvement and also being the leader of my team, I want to show my teammates that they should do the same and I wouldn’t be shocked for more guys to get involved with Camp Kesem," Manuel says.
Last season, along with his surface contributions, Manuel hosted a few local families in the New York area for a game and a meet and greet with him.
For now, Scoring For Good only features NFL players, but Camp Kesem will work to expand its reach into other sports. Despite the current limitations, sports fans have an open reach. Scoring For Good now has a mobile app available for free download in iTunes and Google Play. Users treat their phones like footballs, whipping mock spirals. The app can record the virtual distance of the throw, and friends can compete against one another, all the while raising awareness for Camp Kesem.
“Camp Kesem is honored to have such support from our players and the NFL community. By sharing their personal stories (and our Camp Kesem mission), our Scoring for Good players will further advance and elevate the programs that Camp Kesem provides to a population of children who are often over-looked, “ says Jane Saccaro, CEO of Camp Kesem.
Scoring For Good can cut down a large chunk of Camp Kesem's wait list, and it can build a stronger foundation for the organization's future endeavors. Awareness for the 13-year-old summer camp program continues to rise with every social media interaction by one of the four players and the points they score.
"I’m going to try and score as many touchdowns for the Bills as I can this season. I’m sure I will think about Camp Kesem after some of those touchdowns," Manuel says.
For individuals like Higley and Saccaro, the NFL presence is monumental for their organization. Camp Kesem is a good works program benefiting from the guys who play on Sunday.
"EJ, Glover, Anthony, and Tyler have been phenomenal to work with. Each have chosen their own special way they want to participate and we are so grateful for their support," Higley says. "We always aim to build long-lasting and fulfilling partnerships with our athletes and work with them to create programs that work best for their schedules."
There may be an extra pep in the step of Manuel, Polumbus, Quin and Castonzo this season. While every play helps their respective teams, every play can also affect the lives of children dealing with a parent suffering from cancer. Whether in the form of a starting NFL quarterback tossing a touchdown or a child zipping a virtual throw with a cell phone, the word of Camp Kesem will spread in the 2014 season.
For many children, these pigskin moments can improve their summers. And their futures.
For more information, visit www.CampKesem.org/ScoringForGood.
-- Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.