THIBODAUX -- California native Joshua Simmons is no stranger to the Manning Passing Academy.
For the third straight year, Simmons has made the trek from his home in Chico, Calif., to attend the annual passing academy held at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux.
And Simmons said he is excited to be back on the bayou.
“I just want to continue to enjoy this camp and just have fun,” Simmons said. “I’m going to keep coming back. Being able to meet all the people has been pretty cool.”
Simmons is one of more than 1,200 campers who converged on Nicholls for Thursday’s start of the Manning Passing Academy, which is in its 23nd year and 14th at Nicholls.
The four-day camp started Thursday and ends Sunday.
“The hospitality here at Nicholls as always is phenomenal,” said Jeff Hawkins, who is the Manning Camp associate director. “The community is unbelievable. The university is unbelievable. People are always welcoming us with open arms.”
The campers, most of whom are quarterbacks, wide receivers or tight ends and span different skill levels, checked in at Stopher Gym, while many of their parents enjoyed the hospitality room in the Cotillion Ballroom on campus, featuring live music and free food and drinks from local vendors.
The campers packed the stands in the gym before they checked in, filled out paperwork and got their room assignments and gear, which featured T-shirts, a football and a duffle bag.
Hawkins said it was another great turnout for the Manning Camp at Nicholls. He mentioned that registration day is always fun because it gives the staff a chance to meet many returning campers and first-time attendees.
“Evidently we’re doing something right for the kids to want to come back every year,” Hawkins said. “We absolutely love it here. It couldn’t be better.”
Along with the Manning family, including former NFL starter Archie, Super Bowl winners and Super Bowl MVPs Peyton and Eli, and Cooper, a former high school and college receiver who many consider the life of the camp, some of the college quarterbacks expected to attend are Nicholls’ Chase Fourcade, Washington’s Jacob Browning, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley, Vanderbilt’s Kyle Shurmur, Tulane’s Jonathan Banks, Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Ole Miss’ Jordan Ta’amu and Alabama’s Jalen Hurt.
Simmons said he loves getting instruction from the Manning family and some of the top coaches and college quarterbacks in the country.
“I learned a lot from all the quarterbacks on how to get to that level,” Simmons said. “I also worked on some of my mechanics that helped improve my game.”
Jackson Jones, a native of Portland, Ore., and another returning camper, was the first camper in line for registration.
“It’s pretty cool to be here,” Jones said. “Just being able to meet new friends and making new memories is amazing. Just to be the first ones is great I don’t have to wait in a long line of campers. I’m just excited to start playing.”
Jones said getting to meet the Manning family and several college coaches have been beneficial.
“I’ve learned all the hard work it takes to get to the level that all these guys are at,” Jones said. “They get to come back and teach the next generation of players.”
There were also many first time attendees checking in, including Kristian Story, who is a top-rated dual threat prep quarterback from Lanett, Ala.
Story, a four-star quarterback who is committed to the University of Tennessee, said he wants to use the camp to work on his fundamentals such as footwork and throwing skills.
“It feels pretty good to be here,” Story said. “It’s my first time coming to the quarterback camp to refine my skills, so I’m very excited to be here. Some coaches recommended it and told me it was a good camp to attend.”
Hayden Sauser of Modesto, Calif., is another first time Manning camper. He signed up for the camp after reading about it on the Internet and social media.
“The Mannings have had a lot of success,” Sauser said. “It’s always good to come learn from one of the best that has ever played football. Hopefully they can take what they teach me and bring it back to my high school and have success.”
Saucer, who was born in Lake Charles but moved to California as a kid, said it took him some time to handle the south Louisiana heat on Thursday.
“I was not used to this heat at all,” Saucer said. “When I came here, it was rough, but I’ll get used to it.”
Starting this year, the camp will no longer be just for boys, as the inaugural Manning Passing Academy Football Clinic and Camp for Women and Girls will be held on Monday and Tuesday at Nicholls.
Hawkins said he worked out the details after seeing a girl from Utah named Sam Gordon, who played football against boys, honored at Super Bowl LII. He expects about 100 to 150 participants for the camp, which will be coached by female football league coaches.
“We were inspired by Sam’s story, so we’re really excited about this opportunity coming up to host our first camp for girls,” Hawkins said. “It will teach girls and women how to throw, run and catch. It’ll teach them if they want to learn how to play the game.”