Where Will Arch Manning Play College Football?

Tonight at 8pm central time on ESPN-U, you can watch Isidore Newman (New Orleans) take on Berkeley Prep (Tampa) in some Friday Night Lights action. Notable about Isidore Newman is that it is where Arch Manning, possibly the most hyped-up and celebrated high school football player ever, plays.

Now, I’m 30, so my memory of sports doesn’t go back much further than the early 2000s. I do know that Arch’s uncle Peyton Manning was one of the most famous high school football recruits ever in the early/mid-1990s, but I have no memory of that.

I remember Jimmy Clausen and how hyped up he was. Terrelle Pryor was another guy where people followed his every move and tracked every last detail of his recruitment. Other highly-touted recruits: Andrew Luck, Dorial Green-Beckham, Robert Nkemdiche, Matt Barkley, Joe McKnight, Adrian Peterson and obviously Trevor Lawrence.

But I don’t think any of them were as anticipated as Arch Manning. I think it’s safe to say he’s the biggest high school football recruit of the past 25 years. He’s 17 right now and is only a junior in high school, and already his games are being nationally televised on ESPN. This is LeBron James-levels of hype for a high school athlete. And the funny part is, LeBron’s son, Bronny, also 17, is the Arch Manning of basketball right now.

I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like Arch Manning since his uncle, Peyton. Peyton was a massively famous recruit during his high school years, and it’s because of his father, Archie, who was an Ole Miss legend and played for the New Orleans Saints for many years.

Arch is next in the line of Manning quarterbacks. The Mannings truly are the Royal Family of football, and have been for a while now, but after the legendary NFL careers of Peyton and Eli, the pedigree of Arch Manning is absolutely sky-high. He is the heir to the throne. Peyton and Eli were following up their father, Archie, but Arch is following up all three of them.

There has never been a more famous high school football player than Arch Manning, at least that I can recall. According to this ESPN+ profile of him, he’s been getting autograph requests since he was a freshman (although his high school coach, Nelson Stewart, kept him away from all that until his sophomore year, which I think was a smart move). I don’t think there’s ever been a high school football player under more pressure, either.

Expectations for Arch are through the roof. He’s got the Royal Manning blood. Not only were his uncles and grandfather all great NFL QBs, but his father, Cooper Manning was also an elite athlete in high school before sadly having to end his football career due to a diagnosis of spinal stenosis.

Arch has been learning from 3 highly decorated NFL QBs since he was a child. Do you know how many young quarterbacks around the nation flock to the Manning Passing Academy every year? It’s pretty much the premier quarterback camp in the nation. And Arch has basically spent his entire life in it. Just imagine growing up with Peyton and Eli as your uncles, and Archie as your grandpa.

It’s no surprise at all he’s the #1 overall recruit in the nation for the class of 2023 and the most coveted recruit possibly ever.

This is the Next Manning we’re talking about here. Colleges look at him and see National Championships and Heismans in their future. NFL franchises look at him and see a 15+ year career, tons of Pro Bowls, and multiple Lombardi Trophies in their future.

He is the most sought-after recruit of my lifetime. People lost their minds over a 10 second clip of him flipping a ball in his hand before making a throw at Clemson’s football camp earlier this year:

The way his coach talks about him, you can’t help but get swept up in the hype:

Trying to temper others’ expectations for Arch seems like a futile effort. At 6 feet, 4 inches with a rocket arm, lightning-quick release and good mobility, he is widely considered a can’t-miss prospect, wherever he ends up.

He looks a lot like his two uncles, at least when they were coming out of high school, and probably has even better arm strength,” said one major college football coach, who has watched Arch’s film extensively. “He’s definitely more mobile and always knows where he’s going with the ball. The comparisons aren’t fair, to Peyton and Eli, but I also don’t think any of that fazes him. As much as anything, his presence and composure are what stand out. Sound familiar?”

“He’s got the quickest release that I’ve ever seen, just how fast the ball gets out,” [Isidore Newman head coach Nelson] Stewart added. “His load to release is almost eerie. He snaps his wrist and the ball is out. He has tremendous footwork and takes pride in that. His drops are very fast. He has a really good pocket presence. Young quarterbacks sometimes get flushed out and feel the pressure and want to spin and run outside the pocket. He’s not that way. He hangs in there and is willing to take shots.”

“At Newman we’re not blessed with a lot of wide receivers that can run 4.3 or 4.4 [seconds in the 40-yard dash], and he’ll have to take velocity off some of his balls,” Stewart said. “He’s very accurate and can really squeeze it in there. His athleticism is different; he’s not just a one-dimensional guy. He can run all over the place and has great top-end speed with good agility. A lot of people like to turn on SportsCenter and see those 70-yard throws from the [Patrick] Mahomes types when they’re scrambling, and he can do those things.”

So he’s a combination of Peyton Manning and Patrick Mahomes.

Coach Stewart played at Isidore Newman in the early 1990s with both Cooper and Peyton Manning. He knows the family well, and so when he talks at length about Arch Manning and how he compares to his uncles, he knows what he’s talking about.

And as much as he raves about Arch’s football talent, he has even better things to say about his character:

“I think there’s a natural pressure, but I think he’s just one of those kids who is a high achiever and has high standards,” Stewart said. “It’s just how he’s wired. I know he adores his grandfather and it’s an incredibly close family. He doesn’t get caught up in it. I really do just focus on the Arch, and not the Manning, and just be his coach. I think he’s his own entity, and he knows that. There’s no sense of entitlement with him, and that’s important to me. He’s very unassuming. I don’t think he feels pressure because of [his name], but he puts pressure on himself.”

And it’s not just Stewart, either. Arch has made an incredible impression on just about everybody he’s met during his recruitment:

When Arch took an unofficial visit to Texas in June, he spent time with Sarkisian and other coaches in front of a whiteboard. He accidentally left his notes behind. Someone found them and gave them to Sarkisian. “Coach Sarkisian called me and said it took their breath away and that it was staggering how much information he was writing down,” Stewart said.

“I just want you to know that I’ve been doing this for a long time and have worked with a lot of quarterbacks,” Sarkisian told him. “Even if I never get to coach this kid, the fact that I got to work with him today was phenomenal and makes it all worth it. That’s the kind of impression he had on us.”

I almost kind of feel bad for the kid because of how famous he’s been basically since he was like 14. But he seems to be able to handle it all. He comes from a family that has been in the spotlight for over 50 years now dating back to Archie’s career as the star QB at Ole Miss, and then of the Saints in the NFL. Peyton and Eli both know what it’s like to be in Arch’s position. If any family knows how to handle this type of hype and media attention, it’s the Mannings.

So who is going to win the grand prize of high school football recruiting when Arch makes his decision, which is expected to be sometime in the spring of 2022?

Well, outside of mentioning Arch’s visit to Texas this past June, the ESPN article doesn’t really get into speculation about where Arch might end up. And apparently the Manning family is playing it pretty close to the vest, not wanting the whole recruitment process to be a public spectacle. They want it to be Arch’s decision alone.

This is where we have to start speculating. Fortunately for us, someone else has already done that, so we can use Dan Wolken’s Yahoo Sports article as our starting point. Wolken says that “the feeling” among coaches and people inside college football “is that he is more likely to land at one of the big brand names that can win a national championship rather than the school where he has the most family ties.”

Meaning he’s probably not going to Ole Miss, where Archie, Cooper and Eli all went, or Tennessee, where Peyton went. This is Wolken’s list, as well as a brief summary of why he’s interested in each place:

  • Alabama: because it’s Bama.
  • Clemson: because it’s Clemson.
  • Georgia: because it’s Georgia.
  • Ole Miss: family ties.
  • Texas: because he’s said to have a “strong affinity” for Steve Sarkisian. Plus, they’re joining the SEC sometime between next year and 2024.
  • LSU: not as much in the running as the top-5, but he’s from Louisiana so you can’t rule out LSU. However, it all depends on who’s hired as the new coach there.
  • Stanford: as with Texas, he’s said to really like David Shaw, plus Stanford has a history of producing some great QBs, like Andrew Luck, John Elway and Jim Plunkett.
  • Notre Dame: said to be a “dark horse,” but mainly because of the brand.
  • Virginia: sister May goes there and plays volleyball there, mom Ellen also went and played volleyball there.

It doesn’t appear any Big Ten school is in the running for him. Ohio State would be the one that could get him, but from what I’ve read it doesn’t seem like Ohio State is in serious pursuit. This is probably for two reasons: Manning prefers to play somewhere in the South, and Ohio State already has tons of great QBs on the roster, including redshirt freshman current QB CJ Stroud, and QB phenom Quinn Ewers, who is only 17 now but enrolled at Ohio State earlier this year. Ewers was the #1 overall national recruit for the class of 2022.

In my opinion, the names that really jump out at me are Clemson and Texas.

I know we can’t fully rule any other school on the list out, but for some reason I just think Clemson and Texas are his top two right now.

Clemson because of its recent history with Trevor Lawrence and DeShaun Watson, and Texas because of his apparent affinity for Sarkisian. This is what Wolken had to say about Texas:

Arch Manning is known to have a strong affinity for Texas coach Steve Sarkisian, calling him “a freak of a coach” during an interview this spring with 247 Sports. He’s added in other interviews that he enjoys Sarkisian’s laid-back recruiting style where he’s not always trying to make the hard sell.

Last Thursday, Sarkisian showed up at Manning’s game against St. Charles Catholic. After that, Manning spent the weekend in Austin, making a second visit to Texas.

“He lit up and just said he had a great time,” Isidore Newman coach Nelson Stewart told 247 Sports. “I think they have done an outstanding job establishing a relationship with him from the start. Coach Sark’s direct involvement in his recruitment comes across as very authentic and special. It’s obvious Arch and him have a great connection.”

This is a big deal. If he’s a big fan of Sark, that goes a long way in a recruit’s eyes. And I’m sure he fell in love with the city of Austin–it’s an incredible place.

I know we can’t really rule out Ole Miss, either. Lane Kiffin is a great offensive coach and would develop Arch really well in Oxford. Plus, I’ve been down there before for an Ole Miss-LSU game, and that place is awesome. Once you’re on campus, you understand just how much of an impact the Manning family has had on the place: most of the streets on campus have a speed limit of 18 because that’s the number Archie and Eli wore there. Arch would be treated like a king there.

As far as Bama goes, I would never rule them out, but I think maybe the recent QB history there might turn off someone like Arch. Jalen Hurts transferred to Oklahoma, Tua was great at Alabama but hasn’t really panned out in the NFL. And the jury is still out on Mac Jones right now.

I just think a place like Clemson has a better track record with QBs.

LSU is a complete wild card until they get a head coach, but it’s kind of interesting that all the Mannings before Arch were born and raised in Louisiana and none of them went to LSU. That to me seems like an indiction that Arch probably won’t either, although who knows.

Stanford seems like a long shot just because the whole Pac-12 conference is pretty irrelevant in the CFP picture, but it is a great school academically and it has a well-known history of producing some successful QBs.

Virginia is possible because of the family ties, but it’s just not anywhere near as good a football program as the other places on this list, so it seems unlikely.

Notre Dame I could maybe see, but it’s the only cold-weather school on this list, and I think that might be a no-go. The Mannings have a history of playing in the SEC, and while that’s not to say Arch is guaranteed to play in the SEC, playing at Notre Dame would be quite a departure from family history. Plus, Notre Dame is a great program with a beautiful campus and facilities, but it’s not quite on the level of places like Bama, Georgia and Clemson.

It’s really anyone’s guess where Arch ends up, but if I had to guess I’d say it’s between Clemson and Texas.

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