If you’re wondering why ESPNU is airing Berkeley Prep’s game Friday night (9 p.m.), the answer is simple.
“I think two words, probably,” athletic director Bobby Reinhart said. “Arch Manning.”
Arch Manning is the latest member of the first family of football. His grandfather, Archie, had a College Football Hall of Fame career at Mississippi and went to two Pro Bowls with the Saints. His dad, Cooper, had a promising football career derailed by injuries, and uncles Peyton and Eli both won Super Bowls.
It’s no surprise, then, that Arch Manning is the biggest name in high school football. As the starter at New Orleans power Isidore Newman, he has thrown for 17 touchdowns, one interception and 1,186 yards this year, according to MaxPreps. The 6-foot-4, 215-pound junior moves well, throws well and acts exactly how you’d expect a Manning to act.
“He just looks like the guy,” Berkeley Prep coach Dominick Ciao said. “I can see why he’s being highly recruited.”
His recruitment is already fascinating. He’s the class’ No. 1 overall recruit and has offers from blue-blood programs like Alabama, Georgia and Texas. No state schools are among his top contenders, though he reportedly plans to visit Clemson for next week’s game against Florida State. Georgia fans spelled out “We want Arch” on their backs when he visited last month.
When Alabama coach Nick Saban appeared with Peyton and Eli on their Monday Night Football telecast, he pointed out that quarterbacks need to be surrounded by the most talent possible — which sounded like a not-so-subtle recruiting pitch to their nephew.
Mississippi is retiring Eli’s No. 10 jersey this weekend and painting “Manning” in the end zones to celebrate. The five-star recruit, coincidentally, will be there on a visit.
Manning’s pedigree and talent led NBCSN to air his team’s 12-7 loss last week. ESPNU picked up this week’s game as part of an all-day session of what it calls “Manning family-centric programming.”
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That’s what Berkeley Prep is walking into.
“It’s a tremendous opportunity for our players,” Ciao said.
The opportunity came into focus through the pandemic. As high school programs across the country tried to figure out how to train safely, Reinhart traded ideas and insight with administrators at similar schools, including the athletic director at Isidore Newman. Those conversations turned into discussions about a game. Berkeley Prep was interested in the road trip, in part as a reward for a strong senior class.
“We felt like if there was a year to go do something like this, this was a pretty good one to do it,” Reinhart said.
The Buccaneers enter 7-0 and have beaten their last five opponents (Robinson, Brandon, Tampa Catholic, Freedom and Lakeland’s Victory Christian) by a combined 207-7. They have plenty of notable recruits, too, including four-star junior defensive end Keon Keeley (Notre Dame commit), three-star linebacker TJ Bullard (UCF), three-star running back Xavier Townsend (Iowa State) and three-star tight end CJ Hawkins (who recently flipped from Florida to Stanford).
“I don’t think our kids are the type to ever go into a game in awe of any individual,” Reinhart said. “I think they’re looking forward to the opportunity to match up against a guy and several others on their team that are going to play at the next level and beyond.”
Ciao said the Buccaneers aren’t treating this matchup any differently than usual. Though some of his assistants watched last week’s game on TV, Ciao didn’t; he wanted to take care of Victory Christian first.
When that ended in a 30-0 victory, Ciao turned his attention to one of the most heralded prep players in years and the rest of Isidore Newman.
“We still haven’t played that perfect game,” Ciao said. “That’s what we need to do Friday night. We have to be perfect in everything we do.”