BOARDMAN, Ohio – While members of the San Francisco 49ers are in an unfamiliar environment this week to prepare for a Week 4 road game against the New York Jets, Mario Manningham is practically in his own backyard.
That's because the 49ers are staying 25 miles from the wide receiver's hometown of Warren, Ohio.
"It means a lot coming back here to practice," Manningham said on Wednesday from the team's hotel. "Last year, I know they came here and said they had a good time and it's just a good time for us to come here and bond together knowing that we're in these hotels all day. But I get to go back home, so I'm just trying to enjoy the time here."
Being close to home affords the 6-foot, 185-pound wideout the opportunity to "chill" with friends and family, and perhaps, most importantly, get "some home-cooked food."
Home cooking is just the prescription to put a smile on Manningham's face. He's also able to spend time with loved ones and mentors, including his high school football coach Steve Arnold.
"Coach Arnold, he was here earlier, I talked to him," Manningham said of his coach at Warren G. Harding High School. "(He's) just trying to get on the right pace and bring back the Warren G. Harding tradition."
After his time in high school, Manningham went on to wear the blue and gold of the University of Michigan in college, and then blue uniforms once more during his four seasons with the New York Giants.
But in his week-long return visit to his home state, Manningham will be wearing his red 49ers uniform which happens to match quite well with the colors of Youngstown State University, the site of 49ers practices this week.
Besides meeting with people who've made an impact in his life, Manningham said he always appreciated the support of his hometown, especially during his Super Bowl triumph last season with the Giants.
"It means a lot," Manningham said of his hometown support. "They've been supporting me since I first got on the field, (basketball) court or whatever. That's just the type of city that I come from, everyone loves sports and just loves to just be there and support."
The city of Youngstown and its surrounding areas have been very accommodating to the 49ers during the team's week of stay in between back-to-back road games. Mannequins dressed in 49ers uniforms can be seen along the main roads, so can business signs in full support of San Francisco's football team.
As for the 26-year-old wide receiver, being back at Stambaugh Stadium, home of the YSU Penguins, was appreciated as well.
After all, Stambaugh was the site of some of Manningham's high school outings for Warren G. Harding.
"I'm just trying to come back and just give back or do whatever positive that I can say," Manningham said.
Being a role model for the children in the area is also important to Manningham.
"These kids are more talented than they were when I was high school. They need someone to tell them how it's done and that anything is possible, just stick with your dreams," Manningham added.
The 49ers wideout aims to impact people the same way his mentors did for him. Manningham, however, lost one of his biggest crutches this preseason when his grandfather, Gerald Wayne Simpson Sr., passed away.
Manningham knows his grandfather, better known as "Big Daddy," is supporting him no matter what.
"Just going out and playing my game and knowing that I've got an extra person out there helping me out, motivating me," Manningham said of how he carries his grandfather's memory.
With the motivation of honoring his loved family member fresh in his mind, Manningham admits he's not fully where he wants to be in his relationship with quarterback Alex Smith.
"We're still trying to get on the same page," said Manningham, who hauled in a 22-yard pass late in last week's loss to the Vikings. "We're not fully on the same page like we want to be, me and him or him and the other wideouts, but I feel like we're getting there."
Perhaps, Smith's 22-yard pass was an indication of the trust building between the wideouts and the quarterback.
Smith, himself, admitted he missed the mark on deep balls to Randy Moss against Minnesota. But the quarterback did say he was pleased with the catch Manningham made on a deep sideline route that was thrown even before Manningham released towards the boundary on the 49ers sideline.
Trust was there on that throw.
"Yeah," Smith said. "He made a terrific catch in traffic and then somehow managed to get out of bounds which was even better. It was a great catch.
"(I) threw it pretty early, it was up and he made a great catch in traffic."
It's not the first time Manningham has made an impressive deep sideline reception. In last year's Super Bowl, Manningham hauled in a 38-yard deep sideline catch to help New York set up the game-winning score.
In Smith's mind, Manningham, who has 12 catches for 113 yards, can be relied on to do many things and will be counted on in the remaining 13 weeks of regular season football.
"I think he's a guy who's incredibly quick, great route-runner, makes a bunch of tough catches," Smith added. "He's a guy who can win one-on-one, can really separate. (He) brings a lot to the table."
So while Manningham has a four more days until he returns to his old home stadium, Met Life Field in Newark, N.J., he'll continue to master his role in the 49ers offense in his old stomping grounds.
"Just trying to get better every day," Manningham said of his personal goals. "We put new stuff in. For the most part I got the system, just little play-calling, signals and everything, I'm learning."