THIBODAUX — Eli Manning remembers the first Manning Passing Academy.
The future two-time Super Bowl champion was entering his freshman season at Isidore Newman School, and the youngest Manning sibling quarterbacked the freshman team of campers. It looked like Eli would lead his team to a victory in the then 7-on-7 format but older brother Peyton had other plans.
“I remember first year we started off at Tulane and I was going into my freshman year,” Manning said. “We only had a 100 or so campers so we had just these 7-on-7 tournaments.
“So I had my freshman team and we beat the sophomores so we were playing the winners of the junior-senior team which ended up being the seniors,” Manning said. “Peyton was the coach of the senior team and he started playing this defense that I had never seen before and they beat up us on pretty good. That was a good memory. That humbled me real quick.”
Nearly a quarter of a century later, Manning finds himself once again part of the renowned summer camp that his family began. The Manning Passing Academy will wrap up its 2019 camp this Sunday at John L. Guidry Stadium, home of the Nicholls State Colonels. This year’s camp has more than 1,200 junior high and high school kids from 46 states and Canada.
For Eli, who has taken part as a camper, then counselor to now one of the organizers, the experience of working with the young kids in particular is what he most enjoys every year.
“I like to work with the young kids that first day — you see them and they are just raw,” Manning said. “They don’t know the terminology or know what a three step or throwing off plant or hitching. They don’t know those things. You talk them through it.
“Then all of sudden Sunday you come out and you say everybody give me a three step work to your left and boom they are doing it and they know what is going on,” Manning added. “You see the improvements in three days and they get more confident and they know what is going on.”
The other element of the camp that makes it so special to Manning is the time spent with his brothers and father Archie.
“Each year it is guaranteed that I have four days with my dad and my two brothers Peyton and Cooper,” Manning said. “We don’t all get together very often through the course of the year. We stay in the same dorm and hang out a bunch and we have a lot of fun.”
Part of the fun for Manning is also getting to meet some of the best quarterbacks in college football who year in and year out arrive at the camp to serve as counselors. This year saw Georgia’s Jake Fromm and LSU’s Joe Burrow take part in the camp.
“To meet a lot of these new college kids it makes watching college football fun for me,” Manning said. “For the most part, if you turn on the TV on a Saturday afternoon you are going to see one of these kids on the TV playing. So you root for them to play and to play well.”
There was one counselor, of the 40 or so working the camp, that caught Eli’s attention — Matt Corral, the redshirt freshman at Eli’s alma mater Ole Miss where Manning was a star from 2000-03.
“I’ve met Matt a few times before, but I got to see him throw yesterday,” Manning said. “I came out and got to work with him and a bunch of the other quarterbacks yesterday. He’s a good kid. He throws it real well. So I’m excited. I’m excited for Ole Miss and excited for him.”
Manning is also excited by the rapid development of the quarterback position as college and high school offenses have been incorporating more spread and shotgun formations into playbooks.
“I think the college game is more advanced,” Manning said. “That starts with the high school game being more advanced. Lot of the time when these kids get to college they are running a similar offense to what they ran in high school and that’s the difference.
“Back in high school our offenses were pretty vanilla we were only throwing it 15 to 16 times a game,” Manning added. “These kids are throwing it 30 or 40 times a game and the same thing in college. At all levels the game has become more advanced so now they are more ready to play.”
Speaking of being ready to play, Manning is just that as he enters his 16th season in the NFL.
Manning has been spending the offseason staying fit, building up arm strength, working on his movement and meeting with the coaching staff to get a better grasp of the offense of Pat Shurmur who is entering his second season as head coach of the New York Giants.
“Very excited for this season,” Manning said. “I think that the second year going into this offense … not only myself is more prepared but the offensive line, the receivers and even the coaches knowing what the skill set of all guys. We will be more prepared and get off to a faster start and be more successful.”
Manning, though, enters the season with competition at the quarterback position, as the Giants drafted Duke’s Daniel Jones in the first round of May’s NFL Draft. Manning has been impressed by Jones, who was coached by David Cutcliffe, who also coached Manning at Ole Miss and Peyton at Tennessee.
“Daniel is a good kid,” Manning said. “He is a former camper and I have known him for awhile. He has done a good job and he is getting his nose in the book and studying and learning and trying to earn the respect of his teammates. He has done a good job of doing that.
Manning has also taken his role as veteran mentor — much like former Super Bowl champion Kurt Warner did with Manning during his rookie season in 2004.
“It is my job to do my job the best I can but to also be a good teammate,” Manning said. “I have always been great in the quarterback room trying to help everyone out and this year will be no different with Daniel.”
Manning has passed for more than 55,000 yards, 360 touchdowns and thrown nearly 8,000 passes in his pro career. So much how longer does the 38-year-old Manning plan on playing? His contemporaries, such as Tom Brady and Drew Brees, still play at a high level in their 40s.
“You take it year by year,” Manning said. “I have been blessed to go into my 16th year. I love what I am doing and I love the work that goes into it. You never know when it is going to be the last year for you so you try to take advantage of the years you are here.”