BY CASEY GISCLAIR
There will not be a collegiate or professional football game played for another month and a half as the long, dragged out offseason period rolls through the dog days of summer.
But football-starved fans rejoice: There will be an opportunity to watch some of the best collegiate passers in the country strut their stuff this weekend — right here in Thibodaux.
The Manning Passing Academy is hosting its 24th installment this week from Thursday - Sunday on the campus of Nicholls State University — the 15th-straight season that the local university calls the camp home.
More than 1,000 youth signal callers, halfbacks and receivers will attend the multi-day camp to soak in instruction and tutelage from founders Archie, Peyton, Eli and Cooper Manning — arguably the first family of football.
In addition to the Manning’s, the camp also annually employs some of the top college football quarterbacks in the country as counselors.
This year’s counselor list will feature 9 SEC quarterbacks, including LSU’s Joe Burrow, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Georgia’s Jake Fromm.
Those quarterbacks will all compete in Saturday night’s Air-It-Out Passing Competition at John L. Guidry Stadium — the closest thing we’ll get to football until the pads come on a little later this summer.
“It’s always a good time being here and I think the city of Thibodaux makes this event even better,” Eli Manning said at the 2017 edition of the passing academy. “The people here are tremendous. Anything we need, there are people willing to do whatever they have to do to help us. Nicholls State University has been tremendous, as well. These people love their football and they take pride in what they do.”
The showoff on Saturday night is the most fan-friendly part of the camp, but the Manning family wants football fans to know that their event is not just for elite players. They aim to help all young athletes who love the game of football.
Archie Manning said what sets the Manning Passing Academy apart from other camps is that their event is not a “showcase.” It’s an event that works with players of all ages, skills and sizes.
“We are not a Blue Chip camp,” Archie Manning said. “That’s not us. That’s never ever what we aimed to be. We want to take these young men, work with them, teach them some things and then send them back to their school teams as better players. If we can do that, then I think we’re being successful.”
But it takes an army, and the Manning Family cannot stress enough the importance of Thibodaux and Nicholls State University in making the camp successful.
Archie Manning said the atmosphere in Thibodaux is “awesome,” adding that everyone in the city goes out of their way each year to welcome the camp, the campers and counselors into the city’s hotels, restaurants and places of business.
The campers and counselors stay at Nicholls throughout the week — literally invading the campus’ every square inch, which is turned into makeshift football fields throughout the week.
But family of campers often make the trip, too, staying at local hotels and enjoying a weekend down in Cajun Country.
“The setup here couldn’t be better,” Archie Manning said. “You can eat, sleep and watch the campers work — all within a half-mile radius of where we are now. The layout of the city fits this event and the people at Nicholls State University have been nothing short of incredible.”
The campers and counselors don’t mind it, either.
Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott was a former counselor at the event. He said Thibodaux was “an awesome city,” and “a gracious host.”
Prescott is a Louisiana native, so he said he was familiar with the city and not surprised by the Southern hospitality.
But others come to the area with no prior experiences in Thibodaux and they leave just as happy.
Indianpolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said his time as a Manning Passing Academy counselor was good, adding that the food was “hard to beat.”
Former USC quarterback Matt Barkley said the experience he had in Thibodaux was one of the best of his collegiate career.
“You’re learning from the Manning family and you’re in a really cool place surrounded by warm, nice people,” Barkley said. “There isn’t much better than that. It’s hard to beat.” •