“A Sea of Red” Founder Shares His Passion for LU Athletics
It was September 2012. Turner Gill was beginning his first season as the Flames head coach, and excitement surrounded a Liberty football program that had recently announced its intentions to seek an FBS Feasibility Study. Possibly no Liberty fan was quite as thrilled as Jon Manson.
“By that point in time, my passion for Liberty athletics was pretty strong,” Manson said. “I was a diehard Liberty fan.”
During that month, Manson, a 2006 and 2009 graduate of Liberty University with a passion for LU athletics, launched his new Flames sports blog website: Flames Nation.
“I was like, ‘I am going to start this thing (called) Flames Nation – a blog,” Manson said. “I never intended it to be some big, crazy thing. It was just a way for me to express my passion for Liberty athletics and to have an outlet for that.”
Eight years later, Manson’s unwavering passion is paying off. His startup blog platform, now named A Sea of Red, bolsters more than 100,000 monthly page views, thousands of social media followers and has become one of the primary locations for Liberty athletics fans to get news and information.
Growing up in the Richmond area, Manson’s passion for sports began at a young age, thanks to his father’s unwavering support for University of Virginia athletics, a devotion that quickly rubbed off on his son.
Manson said he and his father also joined a UVA sports message board called TheSabre.com, avidly posting about their favorite teams. Even then, the spark for Manson’s passion was beginning to ignite.
“I was more of a message board junkie,” Manson said. “I liked to get on there and smack talk and get all the inside scoop and things like that.”
After moving to Florida and then Colorado during his high school years, Manson and his family ended up back in Virginia after his high school graduation in 2002. Desiring to attend a Christian college, Manson made the decision to attend Liberty, living on campus in Circle dorm 5-1 during his freshman year.
Liberty was more of a basketball school at that time, Manson recounted, and he attended most games in the Vines Center, while remaining committed to UVA sports during his first few years in Lynchburg.
Manson attended few Liberty football games at the time, instead opting to travel to Charlottesville to watch the Cavaliers or heading back home to see his then-girlfriend and now wife, Morgan.
“That is probably another reason I didn’t go to many Liberty football games,” Manson said. “Most weekends I was heading back to the Richmond area to spend time with (Morgan), as we were dating and as things got more serious as the time went on.”
Still, by the end of his first four years at LU, Manson found himself a zealous Flames supporter and actively involved in Liberty’s own fan message board, FlamesFans.com.
“When I graduated, I was 100% a Liberty fan,” Manson said. “I’m not going to say I still didn’t cheer for Virginia – I did – but I was all Liberty at that point in time.”
After graduating with a B.S. in business finance, Manson married his wife in 2006 and moved back to the Richmond area, where he got a job at a bank. Manson continued his education at Liberty, taking online classes to receive his MBA in accounting, which he graduated with in 2009.
As he began his family and furthered his career as a banker, Manson remained faithful to his Liberty fandom. Around 2010, Manson started a Liberty alumni Richmond chapter, attempting to drum up support for the Flames in the area.
It was the fall of 2012 when Manson and fellow Richmond native Duke Cuneo, a former Liberty hockey player, decided to start the blog site that is now known as A Sea of Red.
Manson said he and Cuneo split the workload 50-50 originally, with each of them attending half of the games and writing content for the website.
Liberty Football opened the 2012 season with four straight losses, but a 6-1 stretch to end the season brought excitement to the program and helped A Sea of Red begin to take off.
“That first football season, the (ASOR) Twitter account was growing like crazy,” Manson said. “Every football game, we would gain like 100 followers. In less than a year we had 1,000 followers and I just really enjoyed it and was having fun building it.”
With A Sea of Red’s growing success, Manson and Cuneo bought out FlamesFans.com, making ASOR the top independently-run Liberty fan site.
A big step for A Sea of Red occurred in 2015, when Manson took a job at Bank of the James and moved back to Lynchburg. While Cuneo had to step back from his heavy involvement, the move allowed Manson to take charge, attending many of the press conferences and Liberty home games.
As the site continued to grow over the last five years, Manson began bringing in new volunteers to help run different aspects of the ASOR platform.
Today, Manson has seven contributors helping him with content, including Liberty professor Tim Isaacson (photographer) and students or recent alumni Zach McLearen (social media), Chad Hasson (podcast host), Brett Jones (writer), Kevin Gora (LU recruiting writer) and Jacob Bleymaier (writer).
Manson, a VP and audit manager, husband and father of two daughters, juggles his many responsibilities with his work on A Sea of Red, often waking up early or using his lunch break to do interviews and write articles.
“Man, it’s crazy,” Manson said. “Sometimes I wonder myself how I get it all done.”
Yet for Manson, the key is being present wherever he is.
“The big key is being present in the moment, taking full advantage of whatever situation you are in at that time and giving your full attention to that person, group, employee or whatever the case may be,” Manson said.
With the rise of Liberty’s success in basketball and football over the last several years, A Sea of Red has continued to blossom into what Manson hopes will become a college fan blog on the same level as other popular sites across the country.
“Ultimately, my goal is for A Sea of Red to be the place for anybody to come looking for Liberty University (athletics) news and information,” Manson said. “I want it to be the No. 1 source for all things Liberty. That’s my goal and has always been my goal.”
Manson said he loves working on A Sea of Red content and that his biggest obstacle is attempting to remain objective when he interviews Liberty coaches and players.
“It’s hard for me to not be a fan when I am doing interviews and doing things like that,” Manson said. “Because at the end of the day I am. I am a hug Liberty fan. I love Liberty University athletics (and) I always will.”
For Manson, his obsession with Liberty athletics is what drives him to share that passion with others.
“(A Sea of Red) is something that started as a hobby that kind of turned into a part-time job, maybe a full-time job, but it’s so much fun,” Manson said. “I can’t imagine ever not doing it.”
Christian Weaner is a Feature Reporter. Follow him on Twitter at @christianweaner.