Football / Sports

Manning Passing Academy: Where stars are found

Shortly after Andrew Luck returned from the Manning Passing Academy in Louisiana in the summer of 2010, Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh had a few questions for his highly coveted quarterback.

Harbaugh believed that Luck, considered the highest-rated quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning was drafted No. 1 in 1998, was capable of identifying traits that made quarterbacks successful.

Cris Carter, the Hall of Fame receiver who has worked at the Manning camp as a counselor, recalled the conversation between Harbaugh and Luck.

"Were there any quarterbacks there, maybe someone flying under the radar that I should know about?" Harbaugh asked. "Did you see anyone there who had a little something extra?"

Luck, also there as a counselor, processed the question and replied with the name of another counselor he had befriended.

"Yeah, the kid from Nevada, Kaepernick is his name," Luck said.

Harbaugh, who left Stanford to become the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers after that season, picked Colin Kaepernick a few months later with the 36th overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft. Last month, the 49ers bestowed on Kaepernick a contract extension that could be worth as much as $126 million.

"The rest, as they say, is history," Carter said.

While not a blue-chip high school camp -- some participants this year will come from Canada, France, and Guam, and all received a slot on a first-come, first-served basis -- the Manning Passing Academy has carved out a niche as a summer meeting place for many involved in the administration, coaching, and playing of high school, college, and professional football.

In other words, if you are involved in the game, Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La. -- which has a population of more than 14,000 -- is a good place to be in mid-July.

Temple sophomore quarterback P.J. Walker, who started the last seven games of the 2013 season for the Owls, will be among the 40 or so college quarterbacks working as a counselor this summer at the camp, which begins Thursday and wraps up next Sunday.

Walker will work alongside notable quarterbacks such as Florida State's Jameis Winston, Oregon's Marcus Mariota, UCLA's Brett Hundley, and Baylor's Bryce Petty, among others. They will work shoulder-to-shoulder alongside brothers Peyton and Eli Manning as counselors to approximately 1,200 high school campers for four days.

"It's a great opportunity for me," Walker said. "I want to go there and be like a sponge. I want to learn as much as I can from the Manning family and transition it back here."

"If I had the opportunity to go to a Lynn Swann passing academy when I was a young player," said Carter, referring to the acrobatic Hall of Fame receiver, "I would have signed up for that. If you ever have the opportunity to spend time around great ones that have done it before, no matter how long or short your time is with them, you have to take advantage of it."

Carter, who began his career with the Eagles when they selected him in the 1987 supplemental draft, does not believe that just matriculating through the Manning camp can benefit a player like Walker, who is trying to take his game to the next level.

"They won't just sprinkle pixie dust on you and make you better," Carter said. "In fact, there's no guarantee that you leave a better player. But you can certainly come away with something.

"It's an instructional camp for the campers above everything else," Carter said. "But the college players have ample time to spend with the Mannings and pick their brains about playing the position. Find out what their habits are, how they prepare, and put it to use for yourself."

Walker is at the camp because Mark Ingram, vice president of athletic development at Temple and a onetime teammate of Peyton Manning's at Tennessee, recommended Walker to Manning's father, Archie, after last season.

"I was in English class and my phone rang," Walker said. "I didn't answer it, but I called back later, and it was Archie. I was shocked. It's an honor to go. It's big."

Temple coach Matt Rhule was an assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants in 2012. When Rhule talks with Walker, he often mentions how much Giants quarterback Eli Manning is a stickler for preparation.

"Now I'll get the chance to see it up close," Walker said. "I will be watching closely and paying attention."

Archie Manning, the No. 2 overall pick by the New Orleans Saints in 1972, said that he and his sons feel "indebted" to the counselors who work the camp. As part of that indebtedness, they make sure the collegians have complete access to the Mannings.

"Seventy-five percent of the camp is coaching the campers," Archie Manning said. "But the other 25 percent is committed to meetings, private meetings, cookouts, and spending time with the guys. We look at it as they have made the sacrifice to be with us, not the other way around. You want them to take back with them more than they came with."

But as Carter said, not every person who attends the camp ultimately succeeds.

Former Wyoming dual-threat quarterback Brett Smith -- a counselor last summer who worked alongside Alabama's A.J. McCarron, Louisiana State's Zach Mettenberger, and Michigan's Devin Gardner -- made himself available for the NFL draft last spring after his junior year. He was viewed as one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation before last season.

Smith passed for more yards (3,375 to 2,832) and two more touchdowns (29 to 27) than he had a year earlier. But his yards per attempt dropped from 8.60 to 7.23, he threw five more interceptions (six to 11), his passer rating fell from 157.6 to 139.2, and he was not drafted. Signed as a free agent by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he was released before training camp.

A dual-threat quarterback, Walker, listed at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, showed he can be a dynamic player as the Owls struggled in their first season in the American Athletic Conference. Temple went 2-10, losing six of its games by nine or fewer points. But Walker gives the Owls hope.

A scout from an NFC South team, speaking anonymously, assessed where Walker was in his development.

"When I first saw him play, the player that he reminded me of most is Tyrod Taylor," the scout said, referring to the Baltimore Ravens' third-string quarterback, who played at Virginia Tech.

"He shows anticipation, and he's got good accuracy," the scout continued. "He seems to be able to throw the long ball pretty well. I'm excited about him."

Walker established Temple freshman records in passing yards (2,084) and touchdowns (20) while starting just seven games last year.

"I need to push all of my numbers up," Walker said.

He can take more steps toward that goal this week in Louisiana.

(c)2014 The Philadelphia Inquirer

Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.philly.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


Comments

blog comments powered by Disqus