Nate McManus was on the same trip as Natalee Halloway

Aug. 29, 2005

ATLANTA (AP) - Nate McManus took the same graduation trip as Natalee Holloway.

Now, as McManus prepares for his first season as a starter on Georgia Tech's offensive line, he tries to keep up with news about the missing Alabama teen, clinging to hope that she might be found alive in Aruba.

"I was at home when I heard the news," McManus recalled. "Everybody was like, 'Oh, she missed the plane. She must have fallen asleep somewhere.' Then a day became two days. Then it became weeks."

Holloway was a year behind McManus at Mountain Brook High School in suburban Birmingham, Ala. She was on the dance team that performed at football games and, while the two weren't especially close, they did share many of the same friends.

Holloway was last seen May 30 leaving a bar on the final night of a graduation trip to the Dutch Caribbean island. Extensive searches had produced no signs of her.

"I took the exact same senior trip that she did," McManus said. "I had the time of my life. It was awesome."

While three people have been detained in Holloway's disappearance, no one has been formally charged.

"It's tragic the way it was handled," McManus said. "A lot of things went really wrong. A series of mistakes led to this. It's really upsetting."

While distracted by the Holloway case, McManus' main focus has been on Saturday's season opener at No. 16 Auburn. He will be one of three new starters on the offensive line, taking over at right guard.

The revamped line is one of the major question marks for the Yellow Jackets, who are hoping for a breakout year after three straight seven-win seasons. Nagging injuries to McManus and others have hindered progress in the preseason.

"We're a new group, but we're tight," McManus said. "We've been underestimated since day one."

Coach Chan Gailey is a little more guarded in his assessment of the line.

"They've been OK but they're not where they need to be," he said. "Most of that is because of injuries. They've not had much time to play together."

When McManus lines up for his first college game, he'll be going against the school he rooted for most of his life.

"I was definitely an Auburn fan," he said. "Lots of my friends go to Auburn. They'll be at the game. It's going to be real exciting."

The Tigers offered McManus a scholarship, which left him torn about which school to attend.

"I was going out to eat with my parents, and it was between Auburn and Georgia Tech," he said. "I told them, 'This is the night. I'm making my decision."'

McManus still chuckles when queried on why he picked Georgia Tech.

"I ask myself that all the time," he said. "I liked the seniors that were here. I like the depth chart. I felt like I would have a better chance to play."

Gailey felt the Yellow Jackets had the inside track to McManus all along.

"(Auburn) came in late, and I think he realized that maybe he fit in better here," the coach said. "We had been recruiting him. I'm sure he felt like he was one of the guys at the top of our list."

Still, McManus caught plenty of grief at his high school when he announced Georgia Tech as his choice.

"It was terrible," he said. "I grew up rooting for Auburn, so when I went to school the next day, all my friends were like, 'What are you doing? You should have gone to Auburn.' But I have no regrets, that's for sure."