Wills Manning said he wishes he would have made more time to train for his running career.

When Manning was at the WIAA Division 3 state track and field meet, others might have thought it was an accomplishment just to be there.

Some were competing for a spot on the podium.

Manning wasn’t in either category. The Deerfield senior is realistic, he said he knew he didn’t have the times to truly contend for a spot on the podium in either the 3,200-meter run or the 3,200-meter relay with teammates Logan Gesteland, Makhai Navarro and Adam Staszak.

“I just didn’t quite have it this year,” Manning said. “I’m not sure why, I just didn’t.”

The leading theory for Manning — who owns a landscaping company which also plowed snow last winter — is that he didn’t spend as much time training in the off-season as he wishes he would have.

“The one thing I wish about my career is that I wouldn’t have gotten into is the plowing business,” Manning said. “I wish I would have had a better winter so that I could spend more time training.”

Last summer, Manning pushed the limits with his business. He said he had about 40 regular clients with 10 full-time employees. This winter, he pushed it even more with the plowing business.

It wasn’t uncommon for Manning to be tired and sore in different ways than his teammates in the winter, or running five minutes late because he was on a business call. He had unique priorities.

“It’s more of a juggle than most have had, obviously,” Deerfield track and field coach Jason Wierzba said. “Usually, there are people who have a job, but this is different because he’s in charge of the job. I think it worked out well for him in the end, he was pretty successful at the conference level and getting on to state.”

The other challenge Manning was managing was a shared challenge with Deerfield track teammate Rachel Kornelsen. Both athletes were named MVPs of their respective track teams for their ability to run in relays as well as open events.

Kornelsen qualified for sectionals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes as well as the 800-meter relay. Manning qualified for sectionals in the 1,600-, 3,200-meter run and the 3,200-meter relay.

“Both him and Rachel did everything we asked them to do,” Wierzba said. “There are things you don’t do because they’re too strenuous on kids. I think they both responded really well to everything we needed from them and they were great teammates.”

Of course, none of that surprised Manning’s fellow Deerfield guard and classmate Carson Knapp.

“Wills is one of the most competitive and determined people I know,” Knapp said. “He wants to be the best at everything he does, just like I do, so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s super determined to run a great business like that.”

Manning qualified for state in five different events for track and field, including two this year. Manning was a key contributor for the Demons on their run to the WIAA Division 4 state basketball tournament his junior year.

Manning also was a state-qualifier in cross country.

“That has to be as good of a stretch that we’ve had in a long time,” Deerfield athletic director and cross country coach Matt Polzin said. “That’s about as well as any kid I can remember. The nice thing with what he’s done is showing kids that you can be successful in a lot of different things at once. We live in an era where kids feel like they have to specialize.”

At the beginning of his high school career, Manning fit the description of an athlete on the verge of specializing. He was traveling around the midwest to play in competitive soccer tournaments.

But he grew tired of it and waiting for him was another passion: running.

“I was playing really competitive soccer at the time,” Manning said. “I was on a path to become a really good soccer player. My brother played Division 1, so I wanted to do that too, but I actually lost passion for soccer and dropped it all together. Sophomore year, I would have never thought that would be possible.”

Manning was persuaded to give running track a try his sophomore year. He enjoyed it. Over the summer, he decided he would run cross country his junior year and the combination of both seasons led to Trailways Conference MVP coronations as a junior and a senior.

“At that point, I thought it was going to be a dual-sport thing,” Polzin said. “I figured he would do a great job running and would really help us out in a few meets, but he would focus on soccer. I could see he was contemplating a change because of his success on the track. He eventually decided he wanted to focus on cross country.”

As far as Manning is concerned, though, he didn’t get an early enough start. Manning felt like his competition got a head start on him and he never caught up.

On the business end of things, Manning won’t allow that to happen again. He started organizing his own business ventures as a 15-year-old and was put in meetings with CEOs through a program at Deerfield High School which included a sit-down with the CEO of American Family Insurance.

Which has helped lead him to his next venture into the real estate business.

“I partnered with my brothers and my family,” Manning said. “We have 16 units over near Milwaukee. We’re trying to make some more plays, but it’s hard in this good of an economy to buy stuff at a realistic price.”

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