The Heir to the Manning Quarterback Legacy Isn’t on TikTok
Last summer, while reading a list of Louisiana’s top college football recruiting prospects, Archie Manning noticed that only one of the high school players did not have a Twitter account. It happened to be his grandson and namesake Arch, a nephew of Peyton and Eli.
“I was kind of proud of that,” the elder Manning said in a telephone interview.
At 16, Archibald Charles Manning is a 6-foot-3 ½ inch, 198-pound sophomore at the Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, the latest flowering branch on the family quarterback tree and potentially the third generation of the Manning family to play in the N.F.L. As such, he is being nurtured and protected by relatives who fully understand — and have the experience and the means to address — the possibilities and hazards of fame and expectation.
In a rapacious social media age and a hothouse recruiting era when players are sometimes offered college scholarships in the eighth grade, Cooper Manning, Arch’s father and Peyton’s and Eli’s older brother, said, “I’m doing my best to keep it all in check and let him be a normal kid.”
A season ago, when Arch became Newman’s starting quarterback as a freshman — something neither of his uncles had done — he was named by MaxPreps, a leading high school sports website, as the national freshman of the year after completing 65.5 percent of his passes for 2,408 yards and 34 touchdowns with only six interceptions.
He is ranked as the top quarterback for the 2023 recruiting class. On Nov. 13, Manning threw five touchdown passes in the first quarter of a homecoming rout. But he is still learning to navigate the intense anticipation of stardom and scrutiny of his performance fostered by his family name. After throwing three interceptions in last week’s regular-season finale, he seemed downcast even though his team won, 31-8, and remained undefeated.
Despite that disappointment, Newman (8-0) prepares to enter Louisiana’s playoffs next week as the No. 1 seed in its division. Manning will attempt to lead the Greenies to their first state football championship at the Superdome, the building where his grandfather threw touchdown passes for the New Orleans Saints 40 years ago.
“He’s worth the price of admission,” said Lyle Fitte, the coach at South Plaquemines High School in Buras, La., Newman’s final regular-season opponent. “He displays the characteristics of a college quarterback now. Pocket presence, keeping his eyes downfield, going through his reads, even-keeled. He’s very mobile, can throw on the run. I think he’s better than his uncles were at this point. He’s learned from the best, for sure.”
The curly-haired Arch also seems to possess the family’s easy humor. Last summer, he told a television reporter that, with his uncles retired, he gives as good as he gets as far as needling. When they call him skinny and ask how much he can bench press, he asks how fast they can run the 40-yard dash. “They won’t talk,” he said, laughing.
Arch fully understands the recruiting process and his standing in it, his grandfather said. But the Mannings have pumped the brakes on comparisons to his Hall-of-Fame caliber family members. And they have been cautious in keeping their emerging star from racing full speed into the world of sports celebrity and breathless recruiting speculation.
As a freshman, Arch did not give interviews and avoided social media. The family declined all scholarship offers. This year, Arch has spoken with college coaches, but the N.C.A.A.’s coronavirus restrictions have prohibited them from Isidore Newman’s campus and games.
In mid-October, he completed 21 of 26 passes for one touchdown, and rushed for two more, in a game before a national TV audience. A YouTube highlight video titled “The Next Manning” had been viewed nearly three million times through late November. A filmmaker has documented his career since he was in the seventh grade. Arch has usually accommodated local reporters after games this season but was not made available by his father over the phone for this article. Arch unfailingly credits his teammates in interviews, though he is said to find the ceaseless spotlight a bit silly. And he still scrambles away from social media.
“People are too early to crown you and condemn you,” his father Cooper, a real estate executive, said.
Cooper Manning, 46, started on a state championship basketball team at Newman and was an all-state receiver whose football career ended at the University of Mississippi just as it began. In 1992, he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal that can cause numbness and muscle weakness.
He is happy to talk about his daughter, May, 17, who was recently named the most valuable player as her team won a state volleyball championship at the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans. And how his wife, Ellen, achieved similar acclaim when she attended Sacred Heart. And how his youngest son, Heid, a freshman at Newman, soon to be 15, could become the Greenies’ starting center next season, snapping the ball to his brother.
But he is reluctant to say much about Arch, not wanting his eldest son to be swamped in a tidal wave of attention and the ruthless, scraping undertow of Twitter and Instagram.
“It’s supposed to be fun,” he said.
Given familial and geographic connections to the Mannings, colleges including Mississippi (Archie, Cooper and Eli’s alma mater), Tennessee (Peyton’s), Duke (where David Cutcliffe, who coached Peyton and Eli in college, runs the program), and Louisiana State, Alabama, Georgia and Texas have been speculated as potential landing spots for Arch. “I don’t think M.I.T. is calling anytime soon,” his father said in a radio interview last summer, swiping at the panting conjecture that accompanies football recruiting in the South.
“The Manning way is to empower the young man to figure out what’s important to him and let him make his own decision,” Cutcliffe said.
For Archie Manning, a cautionary moment occurred in 2014, when L.S.U. received a scholarship commitment from an eighth-grade quarterback from Texas named Zadock Dinkelmann. Like Arch Manning, Dinkelmann has two uncles who played in the N.F.L. — Ty Detmer, the 1990 Heisman Trophy winner from Brigham Young, and his brother Koy.
But it is impossible to know whether an eighth grader will bloom into a college star. For Arch Manning, his grandfather said, seriously contemplating early scholarship offers is “not part of the process right now.”
Dinkelmann entered a junior college, not L.S.U., after high school. His planned college path detoured several times because of head coach firings. He is now at Texas A&M-Kingsville, hoping to take his first snap at the Division II school in March after its fall season was scrubbed by the pandemic.
Dinkelmann, 21, said he had enjoyed the recruiting process and offered Arch Manning the same advice that his father and uncles offered him: Be a high school athlete first. Take your time. Have fun visiting stadiums, meeting coaches. The right decision will become obvious.
“Don’t worry about them liking you; it’s about you liking them,” Dinkelmann said.
Since he was in junior high school, Arch Manning has worked at times with a quarterback coach named David Morris, who was Eli’s backup at Ole Miss. And when Arch’s uncles visit New Orleans or gather at the annual Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux, La., they also offer advice. Each was a first overall pick in the N.F.L. draft and won two Super Bowls. Each has helped Arch with his footwork and drop-back technique and his polished release. Peyton has infused him with the importance of a commanding presence. But they are his uncles, not his coaches.
“They don’t try to be his mentor; they don’t grade his film,” Archie Manning said.
Arch’s closest bond with a legendary quarterback appears to be with his grandfather. It is hard to overstate what a folk hero Archie Manning was 50 years ago at Ole Miss, where the campus speed limit was set at 18 miles an hour to honor his jersey number. Or how he gamely endured a decade without a winning season on the New Orleans Saints, becoming a two-time Pro Bowler who got sacked 337 times while fans in the early 1980s began wearing bags on their heads and the Saints became the ‘Aints.
Arch calls his grandfather “Red,” though, at 71, Archie’s shock of red hair has thinned and gone gray. At age 20, Archie lost his own father to a self-inflicted gunshot wound, which perhaps helps to explain why he has been closely involved in his sons’ lives and the lives of his nine grandchildren. Each day, Arch has said, Archie sends a motivational text message. And on game days, grandfather types a simple affirmation: “Have fun.”
Archie attends most Newman games. During the pandemic, he has sometimes watched practice from his car. When access to gyms, school facilities and parks in New Orleans was restricted, Archie’s home in the Garden District became a place for Arch to workout.
“I think I’m the most like my grandfather the way I play,” Arch told an interviewer before the season began. “He could scramble around, stretch the field.”
Like his father and his uncles, Arch skipped Pop Warner football. (“I don’t think it’s necessary to put shoulder pads and helmets on a fourth grader or fifth grader,” Archie Manning said.) Instead, Arch played flag football until the sixth grade. It shows in the way he darts and changes direction and throws across his body, extending plays as his grandfather once did — running in beautiful escape at Ole Miss, running for his life with the Saints.
Arch has completed 72 percent of his passes and thrown for 19 touchdowns this season, while also leading Newman with eight rushing touchdowns.
“I see little sprinkles of everybody in the family, but he’s his own entity,” said Nelson Stewart, Newman’s football coach and a former teammate of Peyton’s and Cooper’s at the school. “I focus on the Arch, not the Manning.”
Still, some Manning traits, especially meticulousness, apply to all of them. Arch collaborates with his coach in scripting the opening plays for each game. When the pandemic limited school workouts for months, Stewart and Arch reviewed every play from his freshman season on video conference calls. Some lasted an hour and a half.
“At the end,” Stewart said, “he was almost completing my sentences.”