As a high school phenom nearly 30 years ago, Peyton Manning adored the recruiting process so much that he was still talking to dozens of college coaches every week during his senior season. He would lay across the foot of his bed at 10 o’clock each night and review with his father Archie all the schools that had courted him that day.
Peyton put in a separate phone line just to field the calls. “That was big stuff,” Cooper recalled his older brother. Peyton stored his college letters in boxes—each school had its own box—and spent his spare time at Isidore Newman in New Orleans wishing this lovefest would last forever. Archie had to tell him to start informing coaches who were out of it that they were, you know, out of it.
“And when Eli came along he was totally the opposite,” Archie said. “I have eliminated them fast.”
All these years later, Peyton and Eli are retired two-time Super Bowl champs and active analysts for alternative “Monday Night Football” programming. But as much as anything, they are invested witnesses to a recruiting derby like none before it.
Their nephew and fellow Isidore Newman quarterback, Arch, might be the most publicized and scrutinized college prospect in the history of American high school sports. LeBron James was never really a college prospect — he was always the slam-dunk first pick in the NBA draft — and he played his high school ball before Twitter or Instagram existed.
Arch Manning? He’s grown up in the social media age, as a product of football royalty whose otherworldly skill landed a small, private Louisiana school on the ESPN schedule. Before Arch started spring practice Monday, one coach who knows the family said the kid represented a mix of Cooper’s athleticism, Eli’s disposition and Peyton’s talent. “That’s a good combination,” Archie said.
The family patriarch, himself a former Ole Miss and NFL star, was hesitant to say much about Arch’s ability or his college options because he once created a stir by saying Arch was ahead of the Peyton/Eli pace (as a freshman Newman starter) and because, he said, “We have a really good grandfather-grandson relationship that doesn’t go into recruiting.” The kid is currently advising his grandfather on the 40-45 college quarterbacks he should pick as camp counselors for next month’s Manning Passing Academy.
“But what I’m really proud of is the job Cooper has done in handling this,” Archie said. “He didn’t let Arch get wrapped up in it when it started for him as an eighth-grader or as a freshman. He’s made it as old-school as you possibly can.”
As a wide receiver with better speed than his two younger brothers, Cooper lost his shot at a big Ole Miss career to a diagnosis of spinal stenosis.
“Arch is a lot better athlete than I was, and he’s faster than all of us,” Cooper told The Post. “You don’t want to compare anyone in high school to anyone who’s been there [in the NFL], and Arch is trying to be himself and figure it out. He will always be linked to Peyton and Eli, and they’ve been great uncles to him. But they’re all different animals.”
Different animals living at different times.
“Arch is not on Twitter, but I had to create a Twitter account for him recently because of another fake account,” Cooper said. It’s verified, though Arch follows no other users and has yet to post his first tweet from him.
This has been the Manning objective from the start — a low-key process that is anything but low-key. Arch’s Eli-like temperament has helped that approach.
“We’ve been to LSU, Ole Miss, Georgia, Texas, Alabama,” Cooper said, “and getting him to go on those trips alone was hard enough. In the summer Arch would rather be with his friends than him, so it’s like pulling teeth to even do this. And after we’d go Arch would say, ‘I’m glad we did this.’ And I’m like, ‘No kidding.’
“He didn’t take a visit somewhere just to see what Los Angeles was like. I have a hard enough time getting him to drive four hours to Tuscaloosa.”
Cooper dismissed reports that put Georgia and Texas ahead of Alabama on the list of frontrunners. Arch told On3.com that all three remain under consideration, that he’s planning official visits to Florida and LSU, and that “it’s kind of getting closer” to decision time. His father de el pointed out that the college landscape changes so rapidly, with the comings and goings of coaches and with newfangled NIL deals dictating player movement, what looks ideal today might not look ideal tomorrow.
“We’re not entertaining any of that stuff,” Cooper said of future NIL deals. “We’re staying old school. We want Arch to go where he wants to go, where he will have good friends and where he thinks he’d be happy even if he got hurt on the first day of practice.
“He’s a teenager and a knucklehead like we all were, but I really do respect how he’s going about it. He’s not in a hurry, and he does n’t get caught up in the things that he maybe a teenager would. He’s critical. It could be anything from how the offense is run, or why this quarterback didn’t do well. His options from him are all fantastic and they all seem perfect, but he’s doing a good job of figuring out what’s wrong with them and whether or not they fit him.
Arch has had to get on the phone to tell hopeful coaches that he won’t be attending their schools, never a pleasant experience.
“But that’s part of growing up,” Cooper said. Over three-plus years of being recruited, of being labeled the chosen one, Arch Manning has done a lot of growing up.
If there’s no guarantee he’ll ever play like his uncles, it does appear his father gave him the best possible chance.