Throughout the years covering the Manning Passing Academy, there has been a host of top quarterbacks working with Eli, Peyton and Archie Manning as counselors for the more than 1,000 high-school football players.
Quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Matt Stafford, Jake Locker, Matt Barkley, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, E.J. Manuel, Christian Ponder and Colin Kaepernick have all made it to Thibodaux to watch how to play quarterback from the First Family of Quarterbacks in the NFL ... the Mannings.
This year, the most decorated college quarterback of 2012 and the most dynamic personality, Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, was the most significant member of the Manning Passing Academy counselors, other than Eli and Peyton.
"It's great to be here and to soak in the knowledge and the technical side of the game Eli and Peyton bring to the table," Manziel said. "I have been here as a high-school quarterback, but this is a great experience for me to observe and just watch how two of the greatest quarterbacks in the game today operate and why they are at the top of their field. Some just feel like you just go out there and play, but there is a lot of hard work and repetition to this game. To just watch how they run the same drills, almost precision wise, on each snap is really something special. I need to learn how to compartmentalize on and off the field distractions better. It's part of the growing up process."
Manziel, the only freshman to ever win the Heisman Trophy, has worked hard in the off-season to improve upon one of the greatest seasons ever for a Texas A&M Aggie.
"This offseason, I have worked really hard on improving my footwork and also my set up and delivery in the pocket. I will always use my foot speed and quickness to elude defenders and buy some time, but I knew I needed to work on getting more accurate throwing the ball from the pocket better. I have also worked hard to get stronger in the weight room and just trying to play smarter on the field. It also involves a lot of film room work and understanding defenses and different alignments better. The defenses will know me better this year, so I need to know them a lot better to grow upon what we accomplished last season."
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner says he spends a lot of time watching other top quarterbacks in both college and pro football.
"I watch a lot of film, and I try to pick up little things from watching what Eli and Peyton do and also guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady," Manziel said. "Growing up in Texas, I tried to emulate what I saw Vince Young and Colt McCoy do at Texas, Robert Griffin at Baylor and Sam Bradford at Oklahoma. Everyone has a little different way of making things work, but all those great players have a superb workout ethic and they pay attention to the little things on and off the field. For me, it is about focus and learning how to deal with the distractions. That is what makes the Mannings so impressive, and they can compartmentalize this game so well."
Manziel, the 2012 Davey O'Brien Award and Manning Award winner, said that the Aggies played with a chip on their shoulders after hearing so much last offseason that they could not compete in the SEC.
"It's something we heard and read about from just about everyone, but we knew we were a pretty good team too and we just wanted to show we belonged in the SEC," Manziel said. "The strange thing is that most of our players were recruited by a lot of SEC teams, so if they thought we were good enough to be recruited by them, then why couldn't we play well against them. We were the team on the hunt last season, but this year we have to adjust to be the ‘hunted' team. I can tell you as a team we didn't accomplish everything we wanted to and we are still a very hungry team. Playing against LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas won't get any easier."
Manziel said adjustments, personnel and scheme wise makes the off-season important to college football teams.
"Every year you have to adjust and just get better overall as a team," he said. "Everyone asks about teams taking away things from my game or what we do best, but our coaching staff works hard and the players work very hard also to make it difficult to take every feature away from our team. If teams try and scheme to take away certain elements of our passing game I can tell you we are just going to run the ball more. People forget we have a strong rushing attack too and our offensive line is really strong. We lost a great player in our left tackle Luke Joeckel to the NFL and Patrick (Lewis), who's from down here in south Louisiana graduated, but we feel real good about what we have returning."
The 2012 AP College Football Player of the Year says he is excited to get to play again with offensive tackle Jake Matthews and wide receiver Mike Evans.
"Jake's a superb football player. He got overshadowed a bit because Luke Joeckel got so much publicity, but he's a terrific football player and great technician," Manziel said. "He's going to take Luke's place on the left side this year after starting on the right side the past two seasons. His younger brother, Mike, is our starting center, so I am glad for the Matthews family and to have them on our team.
"Mike (Evans) is something special. He was more known in high school for basketball, but he has turned into a great college end. He's a big target for me to find downfield at 6-(foot-)5, and he's a real physical guy. Mike has really worked hard also to improve his route running skills and so he's a weapon I am glad we have him. Mike was not a heavily recruited guy and he says he almost went to Tulane until A&M came into the picture."
Manziel should know all about being passed over by some of the heavyweights in college football.
Despite throwing for 3,609 yards and 45 touchdowns and rushing for 1,674 yards and 30 touchdowns as a prep senior, Manziel, a Parade Magazine All-American selection, was bypassed by both the University of Texas and LSU during the recruiting process.
"I knew a lot about LSU because of Matt Flynn," Manziel said. "When I was in Tyler, Texas, Matt was the quarterback at Robert E. Lee High School, so I knew a lot about the team and the tradition. They didn't show a lot of interest in me. It really wasn't much. For me, it came down to Stanford, Oregon and Texas A&M during the recruiting process."
Manziel said he is looking forward to playing against LSU this season in Tiger Stadium.
"Last year, we didn't play very well against LSU and a lot of it was because the Tigers were so good," he said. "They were just so impressive in how they ran to the ball and how fast they could converge on a ballcarrier. They had the most athletic defense we played last year and they gave us a lot of problems. It's going to be great to play in Tiger Stadium this year. I have heard so much about playing there and the crowd noise. I am just looking forward to playing there in late November. It can't get any better than that playing college football."
But before Texas A&M and Manziel play the Tigers, all eyes in college football will be watching when the Aggies play the back-to-back national champion Alabama on Sept. 14.
"I am roommates here with (Alabama quarterback) A.J. McCarron, who is a really cool guy and a terrific player, but we can say we were the only team to beat them last year," Manziel said. "But we have to put that aside and understand this is a totally different year and be fully prepared to play the best team in the country. It's going to be great to play them again, and we play them at home this year. Our coach, Kevin Sumlin, always talks about just playing this one game at a time and be fully prepared for every team's best effort, and that is what we strive to do in 2013. I want to be like A.J. and play for the national title and win it. That is our goal as a team."
For Manziel the NFL scouts are watching and it is not so much what he has done on the field that is in question, but some of his actions off the field.
It is very important when you are the face of an NFL franchise.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Former Ohio State Heisman Trophy winning running back and Tennessee Titans All-Pro halfback Eddie George talked about the difference he sees in college football today in comparison to when he played.
"The game today is like basketball on grass," George said. "Offenses today run about 80 plays on an average per game. And offensive coaches talk about stretching that to 90 plays per game. In my day, that was a game and all of overtime. It takes a different level of training and conditioning and also it changes the type athlete you are recruiting. The SEC has dominated because this has now become a wear down type game and teams break your will. Those SEC teams have great depth across their offensive and defensive lines. That is the difference. Just look at the talent and depth teams like Alabama, LSU, Florida, Texas A&M, South Carolina and now look at Ole Miss, and you can see why they are playing for the national championship every year."