TAMPA — The two rookie quarterbacks have been buddies since high school, both growing up in Virginia.
The Bills' EJ Manuel and Bucs' Mike Glennon were recruited by many of the same colleges and bumped into each other often.
"Mike stuck out because he was one of the taller guys that you'll meet when you go on a recruiting visit," Manuel said of the 6-foot-6 Glennon. "At one of the campuses, we introduced ourselves to each other and have been friends ever since."
They were roommates at the Elite 11 camp for high school quarterbacks and again two years later as counselors. When Glennon played in a state semifinal for Chantilly (Va.) Westfield High, Manuel, from Virginia Beach, traveled just to watch him.
And just last year, Glennon's shining moment came at Manuel's expense, rallying N.C. State past No. 3 Florida State 17-16 after trailing 16-0.
"That was definitely one of my best football experiences ever," Glennon said.
"That," Manuel said, "was a tough one."
Manuel and Glennon will add another chapter to their friendly rivalry Sunday when the Bucs host the Bills at Raymond James Stadium.
"He's a great guy," Glennon said of Manuel. "His parents are great people. It's just neat that through high school, you don't know what's going to happen. And then in college, we played against each other and now again in the NFL."
Manuel was more heralded coming out of college with the Seminoles, where he was 25-6 as a starter and left as their leader in completion percentage (66.9). He was the only quarterback taken in the first round, 16th overall, Glennon going in the third round.
Unlike Glennon, Manuel got to start right away, nearly leading the Bills to an upset over the Patriots in Week 1 before handing the Panthers just one of their three losses in Week 2. But during an Oct. 3 loss to the Browns, Manuel sprained a ligament in his right knee that forced him to miss four games and "slowed down his growth potential," Bills coach Doug Marrone said.
"When he got injured, I texted him just to see how he was doing," Glennon said.
Glennon, who took over for demoted starter Josh Freeman in Week 4, has made steady progress in his nine games as starter, setting franchise rookie records with 13 touchdowns and 1,962 yards. Manuel, a 6-4, 237-pound dual threat who had what the Bills called only "minor" surgery on his left knee during the preseason, has been a little more up and down. Analytics site profootballfocus.com says he is the NFL's least-accurate passer.
PFF's "quarterback accuracy percentage," which gives passers credit for dropped passes and does not penalize them for throwaways, spikes, batted passes or attempts while being hit, has Manuel at 66.4 percent.
"Obviously, there were some games I wish I could have back," Manuel said. "But considering the injuries and the time I missed away from the team when I had the injuries, I've just got to battle through it."
The Bills' offensive coordinator, Nathaniel Hackett, showed Manuel clips of the game's best, including the Patriots' Tom Brady and the Saints' Drew Brees, struggling but sticking with it.
"It's helped a lot just seeing how those guys react to pressure and when they do things good or bad," Manuel said. "It's been a good thing for me to see those guys have their mistakes and then come back from it and still do well."
The message for Manuel was don't get too cautious after a rough moment. Manuel has a big arm, and while Marrone appreciates the rookie's mind-set on ball security, "You have to go out there and throw it."
"It's a balance," Manuel said. "You don't want to go out there and try to be the hero. Then you start forcing plays and making boneheaded mistakes."
Bucs defensive end Da'Quan Bowers believes Manuel will be a great quarterback.
"He's going to be one of those guys you look at and say, 'Wow!' " he said.
Even Bucs coach Greg Schiano, who while at Rutgers recruited Glennon and Manuel, saw something special early on in the Bills rookie.
"He's a really fine quarterback and a great young man," Schiano said. "He's mobile, got a big arm. He's a smart guy. He's got all the intangibles."
And a good friend in Glennon.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @TBTimes_JSmith.