THIBODAUX — Archie Manning had no idea what the football camp which bears his family’s famous name would evolve into a quarter of a century later.
“I didn’t think it would be anything more than a regional thing,” Archie recalled during Friday’s Media Day for the Manning Passing Academy. “At the time, I didn’t know that Peyton would play 18 years in pro football and Eli would play 16 years in pro football. That certainly adds recognition and credibility to the camp. I mean two years ago we had 18 kids here from Canada. We had no idea.”
The camp which began in 1996 with less than 200 campers has grown into one of the premier quarterback camps in the country. This year the camp celebrates its 25th anniversary and has more than 1,200 campers from more than 40 states and from Canada and Mexico.
“You heard my dad say that we have kids from 40 different states,” Peyton said. “It used to be all Mississippi and Louisiana. The other day I talked to these kids from Hawaii, Canada and Mexico. That’s awesome. These kids love football and will travel all the way to Thibodaux, Louisiana to be here.”
The Manning Passing Academy was created due to a lack of proper development of quarterbacks from junior high throughout high school.
“We started the camp primarily because in our part of the country, Peyton said that high school quarterbacks aren’t throwing the ball very well and aren’t throwing it very much,” recalled Archie, who’s grandson Isidore Newman star Arch Manning was in attendance as a camper this week. “You know you had a lot of the coaches back then it was run, run and run. He said it isn’t right when a team gets beat 31-3 but they only threw the ball five times. So let’s help them.”
That’s exactly what the Manning Passing Academy has done in the two-plus decades since that first camp was held on the campus of Tulane back in 1996. More than 25,000 campers have attended the camp — which was jointly organized by then-Tulane coach Buddy Teevens and assistant Jeff Hawkins.
Many of those campers and counselors have gone on to achieve greatness in both the college and professional ranks including Heisman winners and No. 1 overall NFL Draft picks. The names include Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, Russell Wilson, Andrew Luck, Jameis Winston and Joe Burrow to name a few.
This year’s group of counselors includes some local star power as both former Teurlings Catholic star and current Southeastern Louisiana starter Cole Kelley and Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns record-setting quarterback Levi Lewis are serving as counselors at the four-day event held inside John L. Guidry Stadium on the campus of Nicholls.
LSU quarterbacks Myles Brennan and Max Johnson were supposed to serve as counselors but were absent during Friday’s Media Day.
The MPA’s history is why so many current collegiate quarterbacks jump at the opportunity of serving as counselors at the Manning Passing Academy.
“It’s an honor to represent the University of Tennessee at the camp,” said Tennessee’s Harrison Bailey, who was personally invited by Volunteers legend Peyton Manning. “It makes the trip well worthwhile when you are learning from guys like Peyton and you get to give back to kids too.”
“Just to be able to learn from their experience,” Tulane’s Michael Pratt said. “To have the chance to learn from everyone’s different stories.”
The camp may have that long standing tradition of featuring future college and pro stars, but for the family that has put on the event since 1996 — last year it was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic — that is not what makes the event so special to the Mannings.
“We’re glad to do it,” Peyton said. “There’s always going to be high school football. This is what it’s all about. It is about giving back. There is no other agenda than trying to make these kids the best players they can be.”