Kelly McElroy / Houma Courrier
When the Manning Passing Academy first landed in Thibodaux and on the campus of Nicholls State University in 2005, Eli Manning was entering his second season as quarterback of the New York Giants.
At the time, his much more famous brother Peyton Manning was heading into his eighth season as the quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.
Now, seven years later, Eli Manning is entering his ninth season as the quarterback of the New York Giants and has two Super Bowl trophies and two Super Bowl MVPs (including one last year), and his brother Peyton Manning has one Super Bowl title, a Super Bowl MVP and is an 11-time Pro Bowl player.
Peyton Manning is also now preparing for his first season with the Denver Broncos after 14 seasons with the Colts.
Much has changed for the Mannings, both New Orleans natives, professionally in the last eight years, but the place the Mannings hold their annual summer football camp hasn't.
The Manning Passing Academy will be held at Nicholls on Thursday-Sunday for the eighth year, and it will feature close to 1,200 high school football players from around the country along with Peyton Manning, Eli Manning, their father, Archie Manning, and brother, Cooper Manning.
Most of the campers, who will all be entering the eighth-12 grades, specialize in playing quarterback, running back, receiver or tight end and are from all around the country.
It's the 17th year of the camp after the first was held at Tulane University in 1996 then at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond from 1997-2004 before the move to Thibodaux.
"We are happy to be back in Thibodaux. It is such a great fit," said Archie Manning, a former NFL quarterback with the New Orleans Saints. "The entire communities have really opened their arms and showed us great hospitality. Our main thing is to work with these kids, and the communities have really allowed us to do that. Everyone at Nicholls has been great, just wonderful. We have a lot of people that come, media, parents and grandparents. We love coming to the Thibodaux-Houma area."
The camp, which also features NFL, college and high school coaches from all over, is open to the public and is free to attend, but spectators are asked to stand in specific spots that will be taped off around the practice fields.
Manning also said the camp allows him and his three sons to spend some quality time together.
"I know the boys really look forward to it because it is a chance for the four of us to be together," Archie Manning said. "It's a lot of fun."
Nicholls athletics director Rob Bernardi said the event is nothing but a positive for Nicholls and the surrounding areas.
"It seems like just yesterday we got it, and now we are in our eighth year," Bernardi said. "Just the numbers of campers and the consistency of the camp and what it means to the area and to the university is special. Just the mutual appreciation that we have for the camp and the Mannings have for Nicholls and the community is refreshing. It's a very good relationship."
This year, 40 college players will act as counselors including USC quarterback Matt Barkley, Florida State quarterback EJ Manual, Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger, Texas Tech quarterback Seth Doege, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron and others from around the country.
Manning said Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones called him recently to say he wouldn't be able to make the camp because he is getting married.
"I said that wasn't a good enough excuse," Archie Manning said with a chuckle, "but that we'd let him off this time."
Manning also said players from Princeton, West Virginia, Louisiana Tech, Southern Miss, Harvard, Washington State, Oregon, Nicholls, Southeastern Louisiana and other schools will be on hand.
Last season 36 college and pro quarterbacks participated as counselors including former Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, who was the first overall selection by the Colts in the 2012 NFL draft, former Oklahoma State quarterback Brandon Weeden, who was picked by the Browns with 22nd overall pick of the 2012 draft, former Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore (Detroit Lions), former Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy (New York Jets), Jones, EJ Manuel, former LSU quarterback Jordan Jefferson and Tulane quarterback Ryan Griffin.
Current ESPN football analysts Jon Gruden, a former NFL head coach with the Raiders and Buccaneers, and Jesse Palmer, a former quarterback for the Florida Gators and Giants, were also at the camp last year along with numerous other college coaches and players from around the country.
Moving forward and in hopes of keeping the camp in Thibodaux as long as possible, Bernardi said he hopes Nicholls can secure money to improve drainage on the practice fields between Guidry Stadium and Thibodaux Regional Medical Center where most of the drills are performed by next summer.
"By this time at next year hopefully we have secured some funding from the state which will allow us to put some drainage in those fields that would alleviate a lot of the heavy flooding potential," Bernardi said. "We are track to hopefully do that by next year, and that will ease everyone's mind a little bit. The weather is always a factor."
The Iberia Bank Air-It-Out and Quarterback Challenge presented by Wheaties will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at Manning Field at John L. Guidry Stadium on the Nicholls campus.
Peyton and Eli are scheduled to participate along with many of the top college quarterbacks in the country. They will throw passes to other counselors and selected campers, and the college players will have a skills challenge.
Tickets to the event are $8 online at nichollstickets.com and $10 at the gate on the day of the event.
"All of the money made goes back to Nicholls athletics," Bernardi said. "The Mannings have been very generous in donating all the proceeds from that toward (Nicholls) athletics. We want people to come out because year after year we have Heisman Trophy candidates participate in the camp, and it will be no different this year. People can see them play in person. It should be another good event."