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Southern Manuwai just enjoying the moment: Medford news, weather, sports, breaking news

Panthers defensive lineman earns new recognition after medical issues force him to take a break from football

Makani Manuwai wasn’t sure what was happening.

He started to lose his vision, then noticed that he wobbled as he continued to run during a workout.

Suddenly, he couldn’t think, and all he could hear were loud noises.

“It was just a bunch of blank thoughts,” Manuwai recalled. “I saw like the stop sign where I had to run. I remember hitting the stop sign, and that was the last thing I remember before I woke up in the hospital.”

As terrifying as it may sound, that moment in late May 2020 was even worse.

Fresh out of a COVID-19 quarantine and doing his first workout in two weeks, Manuwai was the last of a group of four to carry out the workout set up by a personal trainer.

Neither of them noticed that he wasn’t with them when they went back inside to finish their training.

“Realistically, I could have died because I was out there for a couple of minutes,” he said matter-of-factly. “They didn’t see me pass out, so I was there for five minutes unconscious before they had to call 911.”

Fortunately, Manuwai had collapsed on a small grassy knoll and not in the nearby street, but it didn’t stop more extreme actions as he suffered a seizure while unconscious, foaming at the mouth as his eyes rolled back.

The initial diagnosis was heat stroke, but even that wasn’t the limit for Manuwai.

“It was hard to understand with so much going on,” he said. “My body felt bad for a while, and then I was just praying for a chance to come back.”

After a promising freshman campaign that saw him make an impact on the defensive line late in the year at the varsity level at South Medford, Manuwai was suddenly told to avoid all activity.

With the concern of possible serious liver and kidney damage, it would be the only way to give his body a chance to recover.

“That was hard to hear because I’ve been active most of my life,” he said. “There was also no timeline because they didn’t really know what was going on with me, so they had to do everything very slowly.”

Treated at first as normal heat stroke, it soon became clear that there was nothing normal about Manuwai’s situation.

“My CK and creatinine levels wouldn’t go down,” she recalled. “Normal levels are around 300 to 500 and mine was in the 3,000s. It took three weeks before it came down, but then they had me try a workout and it went back up to 4,000. My straight body wasn’t ready for that.”

That’s when a lot of the worry started to emerge, and he started to realize that your body controls you and not the other way around.

“It was a lot of prayer,” Manuwai said of how she handled the setback. “I do it a lot because I believe in Christ, but I was doing it more than usual.”

What he was also doing while spending an entire year away from lifting a single weight or participating in a single workout was redirecting his energies to not necessarily making him a better athlete, but a more well-rounded person in general.

“I decided to work on things that I’m not that good at,” he said of his missed season in 2021, “so I was talking to new people and developing social skills and things like that. I also worked harder in school and I got really good grades in my second year.”

Tests turned into game days, where everyone attacked with all their strength. The truth is, Manuwai was already an A-class student, but he wasn’t about to let this area slip away during his sports break.

He was also not about to deviate from the plan laid out by his doctors, and was rewarded in mid-July 2022 with a solid clearance to resume activities.

“It was just listening to the body type,” he said of going back. “As long as I’m doing it, I’m confident in myself.”

Count South Medford football coach Bill Singler as another Manuwai confidant, who has followed in the Panther footsteps of brothers Makai and Mauka in the program.

“Not too many people would attack that effort by recovering and getting back on the field like Makani would,” Singler said. “He’s just a great kid and he’s got great support systems around him, his family first and foremost.

“Makani himself is such a huge character kid with so much substance,” he added. “He wasn’t going to be denied. He loves football and he loves being around his teammates. It was obviously a big setback for him and it hit him head-on and here he is back on the field when nobody saw he had the chance to do it again.”

The 6-foot-2, 235-pound Manuwai isn’t necessarily the same player he was, and he has accepted that this is a growing process.

He has also gained new recognition just to be able to be on the football field.

“It has meant a lot to me to be playing football again,” said the 17-year-old standout. “I’m much happier than last year from a mental point of view.

“I can’t really explain it, it’s just been a lot of joy and fun to be back,” Manuwai added. “I didn’t know how much I would miss him until he was gone. For a whole year, I was excited to be back. That’s all I wanted. I’m just trying to enjoy the moment now because I know it can be taken away at any moment. Injuries happen and I’m just trying to enjoy every second I have.”

He has certainly made the most of his second season of football with South Medford.

“It’s still a work in progress,” Singler said. “Especially in the formidable years where you miss a whole year of training and lifting and that kind of thing, you not only make it up overnight, but it definitely keeps us strong defensively. The best is yet to come for him, but he’s doing a great job.”

Manuwai is the leading tackler on a defensive line unit that has helped South Medford to a No. 10 ranking in the latest Class 6A coaches poll and a 6-2 overall record heading into Friday’s matchup against North Medford (5-3).

“Honestly, I’ve been surprised just because I’ve lost a lot of strength,” he said of his impact this junior season. “As a freshman I was stronger than I am now, and I was probably faster and bigger as a freshman as well. But for the most part I studied the game a lot more, so I’m smarter and when I I was injured, I was just doing a little bit of technique so that I would have better technique when playing.”

The Panthers have stuck to a strict regime for Manuwai, playing him only at defense to start the season before integrating him into a few offensive sets midway through the year once he showed he could handle – it

“They’re very aware of it,” said Manuwai, who was eventually diagnosed with stage 2 chronic kidney disease. “They’re always monitoring me.”

In the end, Singler said, the tackles or lead blocks pale in comparison to what it means to Manuwai to simply be back in a Panther uniform.

“It’s a lot of respect for the locker room,” Singler said. “All these kids respect Makani. He’s not a real guy, he just goes about his business and leads by example, like Jaylin Parnell did in a lot of ways. He has tremendous leadership and presence and the kids respect him so much , and when he speaks they certainly listen.

“He brings us so much positivity in that dressing room and then on the field,” added the coach. “I think the kids around him really elevate their game based on what he does. We’re so happy for him that he’s getting the opportunity to get back on the field and play sports when initially no one really knew if that was going to happen. Everyone is tickled to death for him to play again and do something he likes and be part of a team again.”

Manuwai is as ecstatic as anyone about his second chance.

“The lowest point last year was after the senior night loss to Roseburg and when I walked into the locker room after filming the game,” he said. “That was very difficult for me because I couldn’t do anything about it. Football is a game where it’s a family, it’s my second family. I love playing with my teammates, it means the world to me. I’m very grateful to be back.”

Contact sports editor Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, or via Twitter @Kris_Henry

South Medford’s Makani Manuwai during practice at Spiegelberg Stadium on Wednesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

South Medford’s Makani Manuwai during practice at Spiegelberg Stadium on Wednesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

South Medford’s Makani Manuwai during practice at Spiegelberg Stadium on Wednesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

South Medford’s Makani Manuwai during practice at Spiegelberg Stadium on Wednesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]

South Medford’s Makani Manuwai during practice at Spiegelberg Stadium on Wednesday. [Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune]


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