Two former East High football players are on track to make their living in the National Football League.
Caleb Holley, the state's leading receiver as a senior in 2009, and Eathyn Manumaleuna, Alaska's lineman of the year in 2005, signed NFL contracts this month.
Holley, a 2010 East High grad, signed a contract Tuesday with the Buffalo Bills. Manumaleuna, who moved out of state after his junior year, signed with the New York Giants last week. Both are undrafted free agents.
If either hangs on long enough to make the final 53-man roster, he would join the short list of Alaskans who have played on football's biggest stage. That number stands at 10.
Holley is a 6-foot-4, 200-pound wide receiver with a knack for making long gains after catches. As a senior at East Central University in Oklahoma last season, he set a school record with 970 receiving yards. He collected 55 passes for an average of 18 yards and scored nine touchdowns that season.
An undrafted free agent, Holley signed with the Bills after a recent three-day rookie mini-camp.
"I would say I'm still learning everything," Holley told Buffalo radio host John Murphy on Tuesday. "It's gonna be tough at first, but I feel like I could bring a lot to the table -- my consistency with catching the ball, just finishing, and making plays on the ball."
Holley spent two seasons at San Francisco City College before moving on to East Central University. A second-team All-Great American Conference pick, his biggest college game came last October when he racked up a school-record 224 receiving yards against Southern Nazarene.
Manumaleuna's path to an NFL contract was more circuitous than Holley's. It took him seven years to wrap up a four-year career at BYU.
A 6-2, 305-pound defensive lineman, Manumaleuna signed with the Cougars after a stellar senior season at Timpview High School in Provo, Utah. He made a lasting impression as a freshman when he blocked a field goal to preserve BYU's win over UCLA in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Then came a two-year Mormon mission, followed by his sophomore and junior seasons of football. He tore an ACL early in his senior year and missed the rest of the season -- time off that coincided with the birth of his son, Benson. Manumaleuna returned to the Cougars last year and turned in the best season of his career, getting a career-high 44 tackles.
Three Alaskans played in the NFL last year, and so far only one of them is on contract -- Bartlett High's Zack Bowman, a 29-year-old defensive back who recently signed with the Giants after six seasons with the Chicago Bears.
Dimond High offensive lineman Chris Kuper retired after the most recent season, his Denver Broncos career cut short by a nasty ankle injury that sidelined him for much of his final two or three seasons. A 2006 draft pick, in 2010 he signed a five-year deal worth $25 million and was named a co-captain for the Broncos.
North Pole's Daryn Colledge, an eight-year veteran who won a Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2011, was recently cut by the Arizona Cardinals. He started every game in three seasons with the Cardinals, but was reported released as a salary-cap money-saving move.
Palmer's Junior Aumavae signed with the New York Jets in March of last year, but he never made the final 53-man roster and spent the season in the Arena Football League.
In the coming months, Holley and Manumaleuna will vie for spots on their team's final roster -- and for a spot in that elite group of Alaskans who have played in the NFL.
Manumaleuna demonstrated at BYU that he can play pretty much any position on the defensive line, from nose tackle to end. That versatility could offset his age -- he would be a 25-year-old rookie.
Holley, meanwhile, is joining a Buffalo team that is not deep in receivers.
And as Bills blogger Chris Brown noted, he in some ways is a natural fit: "He's also native of Anchorage, Alaska, so playing in cold weather has never been an issue for him."
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Alaskans in the NFL
By BETH BRAGG