Heading into his junior year of high school, top-ranked QB prospect Arch Manning, son of Cooper and nephew to Peyton and Eli, is visiting all of the major college football programs.
Like top law firms scouring Ivy League trivia nights, the reports read like a professional coronation of sorts, with seemingly every big football name having a part in the recruitment process. Bama, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, Clemson, Texas, and SMU have already rolled out the red carpet for the teen, in what has undoubtedly become an arms race of facilities, culture, and party towns.
There’s so much smoke being blown up under this guy that you’d think the freshman dorm was on fire, and maybe rightfully so—the Manning family is one of the biggest juggernauts of American sports, so you know he has good counsel. Plus, all of the physical traits needed to succeed at the position are there: reports have Arch at 6-foot-4 and 208 pounds already, with the arm strength to be a varsity starter as a lowly freshman. It’s a charmed life all around for young Manning, who will enter college with arguably the highest expectations of any QB ever, until maybe one of Brady’s sons starts spinning the pigskin.
All of the madness begs the question: would you rather have teams lathered up in a frenzy, tripping over themselves to make your recruitment visits magical (and all of the downside that exists when expectations are enormous), or would you rather play the game with a chip on your shoulder, constantly reminding people how foolish they were to overlook you (and all of the upside that exists when expectations are minimal)? At this point, Manning doesn’t have a choice. He’s in the meat grinder of the recruitment process, and his only reprieve will be making a decision and going to work.
When I was fourteen, I scored my first real girlfriend. Her older brother was the big man on campus—a popular, good-looking senior who was getting recruited as a receiver by lots of big programs—and I was enamored with the process. Every day I went to her house, he had a new stack of hand-written letters, a full tape of voicemails (this was twenty years ago, mind you), and all sorts of marketing material laid out. The house phone rang incessantly there; I’d be trying to cop a feel in the basement, and some offensive assistant would be calling asking for Billy, all the time, like clockwork. Everybody wanted a piece of him, and he was just a regular, albeit solid, D-1 prospect caught up in the meat grinder, too.
So I can’t imagine what life must be like for Arch, under the hot lights of constant scrutiny without having played a college game yet. Add in the spectacle of internet obsession and the 24-hour news cycle media scrutiny, and you begin to understand why the entire Manning clan has been so protective of their young quarterback. Wherever he chooses to play will be lucky to have him, and I’m sure the relief of making the decision will be bittersweet. The madness will come to an end in some respects, and just really be starting in others. At least once he makes a decision, all of the crazy SEC fans will move on to the next hot topic, I’m sure.
Of course, though, if he doesn’t choose Ole Miss, I’ll be burning his grandfather’s jersey in a barrel outside of Vaught-Hemingway. I know Kirby and Saban give great hugs, but do the right thing, Arch. Don’t let granddaddy’s jersey go up in smoke like a freshman dormitory.
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