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Florida State’s E.J. Manuel aims to win fourth bowl for ailing mom

E.J. Manuel would become just second QB start wfour bowl games if FloridState tops Northern Illinois Tuesday. | Phil Sears~AP

E.J. Manuel would become just the second QB to start and win four bowl games if Florida State tops Northern Illinois on Tuesday. | Phil Sears~AP

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Updated: January 31, 2013 6:47AM

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Jackie Manuel won’t be at Sun Life Stadium on New Year’s night.

She won’t be able to attend the Orange Bowl, her son E.J.’s final game as the starting quarterback at Florida State.

Instead, she’ll be back in Virginia Beach, Va., recovering from her eighth and final round of chemotherapy, scheduled for Monday.

E.J. agrees with the decision. He has seen his mother fight courageously against breast cancer since her August diagnosis. He knows what she’s enduring in private is so much bigger than his final college outing against Northern Illinois.

‘‘She needs to take care of herself first,’’ Manuel said. ‘‘A football game is important, but I want my mom to feel better.’’

Jackie Manuel, who turned 49 on Thursday, will watch the game with her daughter and other family members at the home of E.J.’s grandmother. Erik Manuel will represent the family at his son’s final game.

Should the 12th-ranked Seminoles prevail, Manuel would join former West Virginia great Pat White as the only quarterbacks to start and win four bowl games.

Manuel, the most accurate passer in school history, would gain his 25th career victory as the starter against just six losses.

Ordinarily, those would be the prime topics. This season, however, has been anything but ordinary for Manuel and his family.

It started with Jackie’s diagnosis during preseason camp. The family, not wanting to disrupt E.J.’s senior year, waited to tell him until a month into the season.

That difficult conversation was postponed until after the Sept. 22 Clemson game when Manuel’s family saw how hard he took the death of 17-year-old Austin Fleetwood, a Tallahassee-area cancer patient he had befriended.

‘‘I was really upset and distraught about Austin,’’ Manuel said. ‘‘My family didn’t want to tell me. When they did tell me, it was just like, ‘Wow.’ ’’

Manuel shared his mother’s condition with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, quarterbacks coach Dameyune Craig and a few teammates, but the matter didn’t reach the media until after the Seminoles had completed an 11-2 regular season and won their first Atlantic Coast Conference title in seven years.

There was a good reason for that secrecy. Manuel didn’t want to give his many critics more ammunition.

‘‘It was something my family was going through,’’ he said. ‘‘I didn’t want that to be a deterrent or try to have people feel bad for me because I’m not the only person that’s dealt with it. I wasn’t going to allow that to be an excuse.’’

Aside from a one-point loss at N.C. State and a home loss to rival Florida, Manuel navigated the adversity without a hitch.

Jackie Manuel, who will undergo surgery in one month, was able to attend all but four Florida State games this year. The highlight was Senior Day, when the 23-hour round trip was made worthwhile by walking onto the field with her son.

E.J. Manuel admits he struggled with his emotions that day against the Gators.

‘‘I was definitely tearing up,” he said. ‘‘I was like, ‘E.J., stop crying.’ But walking out with her in front of all those people, I just couldn’t hold it back.’’

Tuesday night, with his mother resting back home, he promises to do better.

‘‘I’ll be locked in on that game,” he said. ‘‘My mom wants that.’’

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