NEW ORLEANS — One of the hottest tickets in town is to a high school stadium in the Uptown neighborhood, where homes tick over $1 million and the pregame scene resembles an SEC environment in miniature, with graduates, family members and friends drinking beers and jeering the bus bringing the road team to the front gate.
The crowd at Friday night’s game between Isidore Newman and Berkeley Prep (Tampa, Florida) included Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who came before kickoff and stayed through the final whistle.
One of the top teams in Florida’s 3A level of competition, Berkeley beat Newman 49-24 but did nothing to stem the enthusiasm over the game’s main attraction.
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There was one reason for Smart to be in attendance: Newman’s Arch Manning, the 17-year-old quarterback who has the arm and name to be one of the biggest recruits in recent college football history.
What’s obvious at first blush: Manning has the size and surprising athleticism to justify his five-star status and warrant the attention given to his development into a top prospect — even if a healthy amount of that fascination is a result of his last name.
“I don’t say this lightly, this was the best game I’ve seen, going back to sixth grade, just because of the things he did and the heart he showed,” Newman coach Nelson Stewart said.
Unlike his uncles, Peyton and Eli, who were not known as particularly mobile quarterbacks, Arch showed off his speed with a 68-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
ARCH MANNING TO THE HOUSE 💥 pic.twitter.com/Q6FAyThtRm
— ESPN (@espn) October 23, 2021
“The fact that he was able to step up in an environment like that, in a spotlight like that, and eliminate the noise — I mean, he never panicked,” Stewart said. “That’s a credit to him and his maturity and belief.”
His recruitment has been a focus at some of college football’s top programs, including Georgia, Texas, Alabama and Clemson. There are also schools with family ties to offer in Tennessee and Ole Miss. Eli Manning’s jersey is being retired Saturday at Ole Miss, and Arch will be at the game vs. LSU on an unofficial visit.
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Smart was there to see Arch Manning and, more importantly, to be seen. While not allowed to make any contact with Manning, the coach of the nation’s top-ranked team was a conspicuous presence along both sidelines, walking with Newman’s offense seemingly in an effort to always be in Manning’s line of sight, since these things matter.
“I saw him there in warmups,” Manning said. “It’s cool having him come. It’s just cool getting to see him here.”
His timeline is to make a decision sometime after his junior season, which will leave time for several more visits before giving a verbal commitment.
But the connection with the Georgia coaches has made the Bulldogs the co-favorites, joining Texas and new coach Steve Sarkisian. Reeling in Manning would also represent a huge win for Smart, who could pitch the idea of joining college football’s next dynasty while playing in the SEC.
But first is Ole Miss, where the Manning name looms large over the football program.
“It’s kind of feels like a second home,” Arch said. “So I’m excited to get back and see that game. Probably a lot of scoring in that one.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Even in national TV loss Arch Manning shows why he’s the most sought-after recruit in AmericaInternet Explorer Channel Network