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Anne Photograp News 2024

Mustangs Princely Umanmielen, Tajh Brooks projected in next NFL draft
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Mustangs Princely Umanmielen, Tajh Brooks projected in next NFL draft

MANOR — Manor football coach James Keller looks out over the Mustangs’ new indoor practice field and sees a football program with a bright future.

The practice facility, which opened this year with a price tag of $7.8 million, is certainly a status symbol. It represents a football program that has become a feeder system for college football programs and has produced players in the last two NFL drafts. It also reflects a growing community supporting high school athletics in Manor.

Seven Mustangs from last season’s football team have signed to play college football. And Manor High has recently become a hotbed for the NFL. It started when former Mustangs linebacker Ochaun Mathis, out of Nebraska, was selected in the sixth round of the 2023 draft by the Los Angeles Rams and continued when Oklahoma offensive tackle Tyler Guyton was selected in the first round this year by the Dallas Cowboys.

There’s more to come.

Manor is a slot where players can be drafted in three consecutive years. Former Mustangs defensive end Princely Umanmielen, now at Ole Miss, is already considered a first-round candidate for the 2025 draft. And former Mustangs running back Tajh Brooks could be a mid- or late-round pick from Texas Tech must be.

The common link is Keller, Manor’s longtime assistant, who will begin his fifth season as the Mustangs’ head coach this fall.

“It’s a dream to one day play for a state championship,” said Keller, who has been at the school for 19 years. “But as long as we let kids go to college and give them the opportunity to go to the next level and get a free education, that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Manor coach: ‘We’ll get where we need to be’

Keller is a football fan. He was a star fullback at El Paso Parkland before moving across town to play for UTEP from 1992 to 1995. In 2000, he began his coaching career as an assistant at El Paso Burges for three years before moving to Manor Middle School for two years.

During Keller’s tenure at Manor High, his biggest challenges were building depth – especially on the offensive and defensive lines – at a school of 2,600 students. Last year, Manor’s varsity had 45 players, while the entire program had 140. By comparison, Westlake, Lake Travis, Vandegrift and Round Rock draw up to 300 players for their respective teams.

Manor has had mixed results over the past decade, going 54-57. However, they have reached the play-offs seven times in that span.

“We’re getting to where we need to be,” said Keller, who expects a record number of 85-90 freshmen this fall.

Preparing players for the future of college

No player on the current team has been more successful than offensive lineman JT Thomas. As a senior class valedictorian, he signed to play in the Air Force. On Monday, he could be seen lifting weights in the Mustangs’ spacious weight room.

Thomas said that while he had doubts he would ever play major college football, he changed his mind after a private conversation with Keller about how good a future he has. Thomas chose the Air Force over the Navy, Prairie View A&M and Rice.

“If you come to Manor and work hard, it’s a given that you’re going somewhere,” Thomas said. “It may not be Texas, but they will take you to the next level.”

After graduating from the Academy, Thomas plans to attend medical school and then become a maternal-fetal medicine doctor to help women with high-risk pregnancies. He chose that field because “several women” in his life had miscarried or died during childbirth.

Keller tells a funny story about Guyton, the Cowboys’ last draft pick in the first round.

Guyton didn’t play high school football until his senior season because he wasn’t committed to the sport, Keller said. Instead, he saw himself as a 6-foot-4, 200-pound basketball player.

“He looked like Shaq playing basketball,” Keller said.

When Keller convinced Guyton to play football, Guyton chose to be on the defensive line, even though the coach told him he would have a better chance of playing in college if he played on the offensive line. Guyton wouldn’t budge.

When TCU signed him to an athletic scholarship, the Horned Frogs immediately moved him to the offensive line. He would play the same position when he moved to Oklahoma and the rest is history.

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Guyton is now among about 100 former Manor players spotlighted on the school’s Wall of Fame at the football facility. The framed photos are of Mustangs who played in college. Tyler Guyton Day is celebrated on May 17 in the town of Manor. Mayor Christopher Harvey will read a proclamation in Guyton’s honor and the school will follow with a pep rally.