The dream didn’t end for Ferrin Manuleleua after graduating high school in 2018, and he didn’t have to look far for inspiration.
Despite three standout seasons that included two Sac-Joaquin Section championships with Manteca High’s football team, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker didn’t receive any offers from four-year college programs.
His self-belief and hard work paid off Wednesday when he officially became part of Bobby Petrino’s first class of signees for NCAA Division I Missouri State. He was among three Modesto Junior College sophomores to sign in the East Campus weight room, including lineman Paul Sogialofa who is also heading to Missouri State.
“That was the biggest motivation was getting overlooked,” Manuleleua said. “I’ve had people in my life like past coaches who told me I don’t have the size to go D-I, but that added more fuel to the fire. Any time someone put me down that made me hungrier to chase that Division-I goal.
“Now that I’m there, I’m proud and thankful for everybody that doubted me, but more thankful to everyone that believed in me.”
Alabama A&M also reached out with an offer, along with several Division II programs, but Manuleleua could not pass up the opportunity to play for a renown head coach who had previous stops with Arkansas, Louisville and the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL.
“It’s a blessing and a big honor to be noticed by someone like that,” Manuleleua said. “That’s what sold it for me. His whole staff comes from premier Division I programs and the NFL.”
Missouri State, coming off a 1-10 season and ninth-place finish in the Missouri Valley Football Conference, hired Petrino on Jan. 15. Modesto JC coaches sent him game film on Manuleleua, who was then contacted by the Bears’ new general during his first week on the job.
“He called me and offered on the spot after watching my tape,” Manuleleua said. “I went on my official visit this past visit and it’s really nice. I committed right away.”
Manuleleua had two outstanding seasons for MJC, which went 9-3 and reached the California Community College Athletic Association Northern California Final. He finished with 162 career tackles, 30 for losses, nine sacks, seven forced fumbled and two interceptions and twice earned team defensive MVP honors for coach Rusty Stivers’ Pirates. He also made the CCCAAA All-State team his sophomore season.
Manuleleua, who majors in criminal justice, credits the MJC coaching staff for preparing him for the next level and is proud to continue a family tradition of competing in the NCAA. His older sisters Sialei and Leah went on to play soccer collegiately at Cal State East Bay and South Dakota State, respectively.
Leah did so after one productive season at nearby Delta College. She wrapped up her third and final season at South Dakota State in the fall, earning Summit League Offensive Player of the Year and a spot on the All-United Soccer Coaches’ All-West Region Second Team.
“Of course, my sister Leah set a great example for me,” Ferrin said. “She went the JUCO route and showed me that you can still make it to D-I.”