Football: Pitt QB Sunersi attends Manning Passing Academy

By Lauren Kirschman

When Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri received a phone call from an unknown area code during his… When Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri received a phone call from an unknown area code during his communications class, he certainly wasn’t expecting a voicemail from Archie Manning.

But when Sunseri excused himself to listen to the message, the voice of the former Pro Bowl quarterback and father of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning asked Sunseri to attend the Manning Passing Academy.

There wasn’t much of a decision to make. Sunseri immediately accepted the offer.

From July 7 to July 10, Sunseri and 29 other college football quarterbacks spent four days at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., learning from the Mannings as well as former NFL head coach Jon Gruden anddraft analyst Mike Mayock.

In return, Sunseri and the other college quarterbacks — players like Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Boise State’s Kellen Moore — worked with 1,200 junior high and high school football players looking to make it to the collegiate level. High school coaches also attended the camp in order to help with the younger players.

“It was kind of like a ladder,” Sunseri said at a news conference on Monday. “When you’re a little kid, you’re trying to play college football and then when you’re playing college football, you’re trying to play in the NFL.”

This year marked the 16th anniversary of the Manning Passing Academy, which its website said aims “to create an environment of greater understanding of, and the proficiency with, the fundamentals, techniques, skills, motivation, and sportsmanship necessary for success at the individual offensive skill positions in the sport of football. We also strive to expand the overall knowledge and strategy of offensive play and defensive coverage.”

The Manning Passing Academy website also said that the Mannings founded the camp to help teach football fundamentals to young players, particuarly those in high school.

“It was this concern that motivated the Mannings to bring together some of the most succcessful and brightest coaches and players from the professional, college and high school ranks,” the web site said.

Sunseri first heard about the camp through former Alabama quarterback and current New York Jet Greg McElroy. Sunseri’s father, Sal Sunseri, is an assistant coach for Alabama’s football team. McElroy told Sunseri about his experiences at the camp and after Sunseri expressed interest, McElroy said he would talk to Archie Manning.

Sunseri was still shocked when he received the phone call.

“I jumped on it,” he said. “I wanted to down there and absorb all I could.”

Although the main focus of the camp was the high school players, the college quarterbacks got the opportunity to work out with and around the NFL quarterbacks. Sunseri said the most important goal for him was to listen to and absorb their words and actions.

“I was able to work behind Eli Manning,” Sunseri said. “He would go and do the drill. He’d be doing different footwork and kind of analyzing why he does it, where he does it, what he was trying to get out of it and what he would like his receivers to do. And then you’d go and get four or five reps and he’d sit back and just critique how you were handling yourself.”

Sunseri said Eli Manning told the quarterbacks that if they were invited to the camp, they already knew how to throw. The important lessons to learn were how to prepare in the offseason and handle pressure in the pocket.

He added that he learned two particularly important lessons from Peyton Manning: how to watch and study tape and how to help the team prepare on the field.

“Peyton was able to go in and [tell] us how he looked at things and how he broke [tape] down in the general sense,” Sunseri said. “He told us how he’s on a certain schedule so by the end of the week, he understands and he doesn’t forget what he looked at on Monday.”

Peyton Manning also brings his team out to the field to make sure the timing is down and that the players know their routes and where they are expected to be, Sunseri said.

Sunseri and the other quarterbacks also received the opportunity to learn from the Mannings, Gruden and Mayock by sitting in a room with the group for an hour and a half to ask questions.

“We got insight on how they thought things out and how they prepared each week,” Sunseri said. “Information that you would think they would not have given, but that’s how the Mannings are, they want to see everyone succeed and everyone do well. You learn so much information that you can apply now.”

He said the Mannings went 100 percent in drills all of the time.

“They expected the ball to be a certain way and if it wasn’t there, they told us, even if it could have been caught by the receiver,” he said. “You see the kind of demand they had for each play, it really bothered them if it wasn’t there.”

The college quarterbacks took the attitude of the Mannings and transferred it to the high school athletes.

“Anytime that you can go down there and focus in on football for three straight days, it turns into a long time,” Sunseri said. “Being a coach down there, you were able to relate. You were able to take what you learned and apply it to a kid trying to learn. That was a big thing.”

Sunseri, who is learning new Pitt head coach Todd Graham’s no-huddle offense, said the most helpful information he took away for dealing with the transition was preparation and understanding what’s expected from him on each play.

“Peyton and Eli run totally different offenses,” he said. “You can work out the same way, expect certain route combinations, et cetera. Even though they are different offenses, we are able to basically move the ball down the field and score points.”