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Manu looking to make the most of NFL opportunity

It hit offensive lineman Giovanni Manu all at once Friday morning when he and the rest of the rookies were on the bus to Allen Park for the first day of rookie minicamp.

"This morning, I woke up at 4 a.m.," Manu said after Detroit's first rookie minicamp practice Friday. "I couldn't go back to sleep because I was so excited to get out here. On the bus ride here, I sat in the very back of the bus because I was really emotional. I was tearing up. It's been such a long journey and just to see me here competing with the best and putting on this jersey, I find myself looking back at my journey."

Manu, 23, was born and raised in Tonga before moving to Vancouver, British Columbia at the age of 11. He moved in with his aunt in search of better education and more opportunity.

Manu quickly developed a love for sports and football, and his body developed into a 6-foot-7, 354-pound athletic frame. A lot of hard work, development and the opportunity to play football for the University of British Columbia led Manu to the Lions and the NFL.

Manu is a developmental player for the Lions with a ton of athleticism and potential, but there's a big jump from playing at UBC in Canada to the NFL. The Lions know that, and Manu does too. Both can afford to be patient in his development with the Lions boasting arguably the top offensive line in football in 2024.

Manu said he wants to show the organization every day that he's willing to put in the work and is serious about getting better with no shortcuts.

He's also got a ton of motivation to become a player his parents can be proud of. They've never seen him play football, something Manu says he hopes to change in the near future. It fuels him every day.

"If you guys know my story a little bit moving up here to North America my parents didn't come with me and still to this day they haven't seen me play a down of football. One hundred percent that's something I'm going to do for sure," he said of getting his parents to see his first game in the preseason.

"It's going to be really emotional, for sure. I think they are trying to surprise me. Because I keep asking my parents if they are coming and I asked my sister too if they are trying to come and they just keep saying, 'hmmm, maybe?'

"I know that probably after my first game I'm going to walk off they are going to be there and I'm going to start breaking down."

View photos from Day 1 of Detroit Lions rookie minicamp on Friday, May 10, 2024 in Allen Park, Mich.

Manu hasn't taken a traditional path to the NFL, but in a way that's shaped him to a point where it means even more to him. He wants to make good on the belief the Lions have that he can become a really good left tackle in this league someday.

"Not having my parents around, my parents are back home on the island, coming from a third-world country, I've had to fight and grind for everything I have here," Manu said. "This road wasn't easy, to be honest. It's been a lot of ups and downs.

"I do carry a chip on my shoulder not having them around and I'm just here to work hard and hope to make them proud. Every day I come out here, that's my motivation."

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