The rise of EJ Manuel and FSU

With his 3.2 GPA and 2010 pass-efficiency rating of 153.3, EJ Manuel is leading the way for the Florida State Seminoles. Sam Sharpe/US Presswire

This story appears in the Sept. 19, 2011, issue of ESPN The Magazine.

CALL THEM EJ MANUEL EPIPHANIES, those moments when Bunyanesque stories of strength, speed and social graces materialize before your eyes.

Mark Zeigler's EJ epiphany occurred in July 2008. The Florida State communications professor had wrapped up another edition of the athletic department's freshman summer orientation. His address opens with the historical highs -- two national titles, two Heisman winners, Neon Deion -- before hitting on the recent lows. He recounts stories of "criminoles" who traded garnet and gold for prison orange, and he rails against the 61 flunkies who committed academic fraud in 2006 and '07, forcing FSU to erase two seasons' worth of wins. Every year he wonders whether any of the cocky 18-year-olds in the room has listened.

That July afternoon three years ago, as he backed out of his parking spot, Zeigler was startled by a rap at his window. He stopped. In front of him stood a tall, thin kid with a determined stare. "Mr. Zeigler, I'm EJ Manuel," he said. "And I will never let you or the faculty down."