Nelson Stewart had it played perfectly, or so he thought. A few plays into his team’s spring game last May, the coach slipped in his eighth-grade quarterback, hoping no one would notice. Stewart soon learned just how long he could keep the latest member of the sport’s most fabled family under wraps.
On his very first play Arch Manning audibled at the line of scrimmage, took the snap out of the shotgun and then floated a 25-yard touchdown pass into his receiver’s outstretched hands, video of which garnered more than 2 million views on ESPN’s social media platforms. So much for no one noticing. “As soon as he dropped back and threw it, I knew it would exceed expectations,” Stewart says. “It was crazy. That’s foreshadowing.”
Arch is really good at throwing a football, which shouldn’t be much of a surprise. He is the namesake of grandfather Archie, a college All-American and the Saints’ star quarterback for a decade; the son to Archie and Olivia’s oldest child, Cooper, a former Ole Miss signee; and the nephew of Peyton and Eli, future Hall of Famers who have each piloted teams to two Super Bowl victories.
Dozens of college coaches showed up last spring to watch Arch practice. As a 15-year-old freshman he threw for 34 touchdowns during the regular season, more than any QB in the football hub that is the New Orleans metro area. Random men approached him before games for pictures. Two posed as working photographers just to share a sideline with Arch. They were escorted off the field.
Arch has the rich stats, the regal last name and the right build—he’s already 6′ 2″, 170 pounds—to be one of the most coveted prospects in the 2023 recruiting class. Yet he has zero scholarship offers.
The reason? His family has declined them.
Four miles west of the cobbled streets and raucous music halls of Bourbon Street, the 117-year-old Isidore Newman School sits quietly behind wrought-iron gates in the charming Uptown neighborhood. Prized locally as one of Louisiana’s elite secondary education institutions, Newman is known nationally because of one name: Manning.
Archibald Charles Manning is the fourth member of the family to play football for Newman. You don’t have to remind him. A retired jersey representing his father and two uncles hangs outside the team’s fieldhouse. He lines up for home games within a sports complex that bears his surname. The school’s highest athletic honor is called the Manning Award. Arch occupies the position that his grandfather played with guts and flair, one that also helped make Peyton and Eli No. 1 picks in the NFL draft.
Yet neither of Arch’s fabled uncles started until their sophomore seasons at Newman. After coach Joe Chango watched Arch complete 19 of 27 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns against his Country Day School team this fall, he recalls telling Archie on the field, “That dude is going to be better than any one of your sons.”
Arch led the Greenies to a 9–2 record, completing 64.5% of his throws with just six interceptions, and surpassed 200 yards in all but three games. He can dance in the pocket, cycle through his progressions and spin the ball like an old pro. Arch is a “slam dunk for the future,” says Frank Monica, whose St. Charles team beat Newman last season. “His release is so pure, you marvel at the fact that he’s just 15.”
Consider a few moments from the 39–0 win over Cohen High. Arch slipped out of a would-be sack to lob a swing pass over a defender’s head. He zipped a pair of precise slant passes, hit a receiver in stride on a go-route and whistled one into a wideout’s chest on a deep crossing pattern for a touchdown. His demeanor was not of a novice but a veteran, walking slowly to the sideline and revealing his youth only when he slipped off his helmet—a bushel of curly brown hair and sparkling green eyes.
“When it’s all said and done, he’s going to be the most highly recruited player out of the state of Louisiana,” says Mike Detillier, a longtime NFL draft analyst based in New Orleans. “It’s going to be a tsunami of recruiting like we’ve never seen.”
For now, though, there isn’t a ripple in sight. In an era of attention-seeking recruits and spotlight-craving parents, the Manning camp has gone dark. Coaches interested in extending a scholarship have been politely told not to bother. “We just say, ‘There’s no offer to give because there’s no offer to receive,’” says Stewart, 42, in his 14th year as Newman’s coach and a teammate of Cooper’s and Peyton’s in the 1990s.
Arch is not on social media, and he’s never done an interview. Except for a few benign comments, the usually accessible Mannings declined to speak about Arch for this story or to make him available. “They’re very private and protective of Arch,” says John Georges, a New Orleans businessman who owns the state’s two largest newspapers. “As much as they try to keep a lid on it, there’s a buzz. Certain people know how to raise thoroughbreds. The Mannings know how to raise athletes.”
Earlier last fall, a boy was with his father inside Newman’s gift shop when a tall, skinny teenager entered. “Dad,” the boy whispered to this father, “that’s Arch.”
Arch is unassuming and quiet, those close to him say. He wants to be as normal as possible, but—as the first freshman ever to start at quarterback for Newman—he is not. He won the job over senior Beau Adams, who then emerged as one of the team’s best receivers. There is no tension between Adams and Arch. “Beau would drive him home during the summer,” Stewart says, then pauses, “because Arch isn’t old enough to drive.”
On road trips Arch rode the freshman bus; during pregame warmups he stood at the end of the stretch line with the other rookies, towering over the veteran players in front of him. He even attended the school’s junior varsity games. Why? “Those are his buddies,” says Stewart.
Arch isn’t the only Manning at Newman. Older sister May plays volleyball and younger brother Heid is a center on the eighth-grade football team. Their father was a receiver here, serving as Peyton’s primary target. Cooper signed with Ole Miss before having to retire from football because of spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that also required multiple operations.
Aside from a stiff neck, Cooper, a real-estate executive, is fine today. He attends Newman games with his wife, Ellen, and his parents, who watch the oldest boy among their nine grandchildren. Peyton even returned to see the Greenies play last fall. Images of his visiting with Arch swept across social media—Arch in his green 16 jersey, the same number Peyton wore at Tennessee.
Since his early days at quarterback, Arch has displayed a keen focus and calm that remind many of Peyton, but he far surpasses his uncle in one attribute: mobility, says David Morris, who began working with Arch as a sixth-grader. The Mannings trust Morris, a backup to Eli at Ole Miss and the founder of the Mobile-based training facility QB Country. (Morris declined to speak with SI before Cooper cleared the interview.) “Young quarterbacks usually hesitate, but Arch doesn’t,” says Morris. “His ability to see it quick and get it out quick is one of the reasons he’s playing so well.”
If Arch is ever struggling with fundamentals, he doesn’t have to look far for pointers: His grandpa lives just up the road. Archie isn’t a boastful person by any means—“too much of a gentleman” to brag, says a close family friend—but he makes an exception when the subject is Arch. Since his grandson’s flag football days, Archie has often acknowledged, “He’s really good, really good.”
Archie frequently shares a story with friends about the time Arch asked him for advice on quarterbacking a team. The most important quality is leadership, Archie told him: “You must take command of the huddle.”
“Pop, that ain’t going to work,” Arch replied. “We don’t huddle.”
There are other quarterbacking legacies: the Grieses, Bob and then Brian; the Simmses, Phil and then Chris and Matt; the Lucks, Oliver and then Andrew. But maybe the closest current comparison to Arch is LeBron James’s 15-year-old son, Bronny, a freshman guard at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, Calif., who is attracting the eyes of college scouts. At his son’s games LeBron doesn’t shy from the spotlight—unlike the Mannings.
“They’ve shut everything down,” says Ken Trahan, a longtime member of the New Orleans radio media, “but the attention is going to come.” Even when Arch visited the Ole Miss campus as a seventh-grader, a video of him exchanging passes with receivers A.J. Brown and DK Metcalf—both now in the NFL—made its way online, exposure that led the family to clamp down on access.
Similarly, college coaches continue to try to find ways around the Mannings’ recruiting embargo. Take last summer, when Arch and his high school team won a seven-on-seven tournament on LSU’s campus. Tigers coach Ed Orgeron and his offensive staff spent much of the event schmoozing the Manning family. “It was unlike anything I’ve witnessed at a seven-on-seven tournament,” says Shea Dixon, a 247Sports recruiting reporter covering LSU and Louisiana. “I haven’t seen LSU coaches put that attention on a senior, let alone a kid who just finished eighth grade.”
The Tigers planned to offer Arch a scholarship, Dixon says, before they learned the likely reply: There is no offer to give because there is no offer to receive. Several college coaches, who asked not to be named, call the Mannings’ method “refreshing” in an era when 15-year-olds use social media to advertise offers that can’t be executed for another three years. The downside, some say, is that Arch could fall behind. Many of the highest-profile QBs have dozens of offers before they’re juniors, and some commit well before their senior year begins.
“I think this approach is very interesting,” says Aprile Benner, an associate professor at Texas who studies adolescent behavior. “In a family like this, the expectations are high. They’re trying to manage those expectations, but they also come from a place of privilege where they’re able to do that. There’s not that pressure to support the family like a lot of other athletes have.”
During the Cohen High game, Arch threw with such precision that a cornerback turned to a ballboy between snaps to get confirmation that the QB was in fact a freshman. “Daaamn,” the defender replied. Seconds later, Arch beat him on a 10-yard touchdown pass.
The hype around Arch will only rise from here. His family’s initial plan is to ease Arch into the world of recruiting and media this spring, a critical evaluation period for college coaches. After Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence’s second year as a high school starter, his coach in Georgia received visits from 120 schools during the spring.
Where will Arch go? Stewart notes that his father, grandfather and one uncle attended Ole Miss. Another uncle went to Tennessee. LSU, meanwhile, is just 90 minutes northwest. Four more SEC schools are within a six-hour drive.
Arch’s arrival on any campus, of course, is a long way off. For now, he’s the latest hotshot Newman quarterback with Manning on his jersey—though Stewart doesn’t see him in that light. “I focus on the first name,” the coach says. “He’s Arch.”
This story appears in the February 2020 issue of Sports Illustrated. To subscribe, click here.