By John R. Schirmer
Most of the time, Christmas gifts are opened and enjoyed when the weather is cold and, maybe, there’s snow on the ground, although that’s a rare occurrence in Arkansas.
For Scrapper quarterback Gabe Moorer, the Christmas gift he received in December’s cold was opened in the July heat of southern Louisiana.
Moorer’s parents, Bill and Amelia Moorer, gave their son a slot in the Manning Passing Academy at Thibodaux, La., July 6-9.
He was among 1,400 athletes from across the United States and Canada who attended the prestigious camp at Nicholls State University.
“It was a Christmas gift. Mom told me I was in it. You have to reserve a slot six months early,” Moorer said, because “2,500 tried to sign up.”
The camp was directed by college and NFL quarterback legends Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning. Campers had the opportunity to interact with at least one of the Mannings during their time at the academy.
Moorer, a junior at NHS, said he met some players from Arkansas. “They try to put you with people your age and from your area. There are 9 or 10 guys per group. We had one from Louisiana; the others were from Arkansas.”
The first session of camp came on Thursday afternoon, July 6. “It was mainly speed training. We worked on form while running and did little drills to help with explosiveness off the line,” Moorer said.
The second day, players hit the field at 8 a.m. “The morning was pretty hard,” Moorer said. From there, campers worked on many aspects of passing and receiving.
Players spent time at different stations, all led by college players from the Southeastern Conference and Stanford, Moorer said. In the quarterback group, “We worked on the three-step drop, and we worked on ways to handoff and read at the same time. The first day, we worked on cleaning up mechanics.”
Quarterbacks worked on form throwing in order to “make sure it works for you.”
At the end of the day, players moved to the theater room for a session with 12 college quarterbacks. “They gave talks about college and had a question and answer session,” Moorer said. “Then Peyton and Eli came in. They asked questions and got us into it.”
Day 3 was similar to the second day, according to Moorer. Players worked on mechanics. They had “heavy drills to strengthen our arms. We learned that a lot of routes are universal; they’re just called different things.”
Quarterbacks had the opportunity to work with receivers to improve timing and footwork.
The players also spent time playing 7-on-7.
“Peyton and Eli made the rounds on Saturday. The college coaches took a break, and Peyton and Eli worked with us. They know what they’re talking about. It was very educational,” Moorer said.
The camp photographer took a picture of Moorer with Peyton on Saturday. “We had finished a drill, and he was explaining the next one,” Moorer said. “He was very serious. He’s a pretty cool guy. He will have fun with you until it’s time to practice.”
The last day, Sunday, “was pretty easy. We had a good solid practice in the morning, then went to the stage for a farewell speech. They told us to make sure to remember what you’ve done here and put it into your game.”
The introductory and farewell speeches came from Archie Manning himself, Moorer said. “Archie was the head supervisor of the camp. We didn’t get to talk to him. He rode in a golf cart” and did the welcoming and closing speeches.
Closing comments included “a lot about character and grades in high school and college. Be a team player and make sure you act like a team leader. Be a leader, not a dictator. Make sure you stay positive even when you make a mistake,” Moorer said.
Cooper Manning also helps direct the camp. He attended a question and answer session with the players.
During the camp, Moorer had the opportunity to talk to Josh Dobbs, the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Vols. “I asked him how to manage athletic training and take classes at the same time. He said trainers help with schedules and work out free time. They get you where you need to be. You can’t be lazy.”
Moorer said he and Dobbs have texted every now and then since he returned from Louisiana.
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen worked the camp. Moorer said he saw Allen but didn’t get to talk to him.
After the final practice, campers met Jordan Rodgers, younger brother of Aaron Rodgers. Jordan played at Vanderbilt University and was in the NFL for three years. “He’s a really cool guy. It’s cool that I met him,” Moorer said.
Overall, Moorer said he saw improvement in himself and the other guys at the camp during their time in Louisiana.
“Last year I struggled to find my form when throwing the ball. I got it back at camp,” Moorer said. “I got a lot of reps. I’ve been able to see things differently for reads and certain calls. Practicing four days straight kind of gets it into you. I’m looking at football in a different way. It’s a game and it’s fun, but it’s also a way to work with people. It stresses truth and honesty. The camp helped me mature when it comes to football.”
Moorer said it is “hard to explain all I learned. I’ve seen what you can do and be positive about it.”
As far as playing football in college, “If I got a chance, I’d take it. I would love to play, but there other things I can do,” Moorer said.
The Manning camp was “fun. It was very hot. The temperature on the main field’s [artificial] turf was 121 degrees Saturday. It was 105 everywhere else.”
Moorer said he would “do it again next year if I get the chance. They encourage you to come back. I recommend it to anybody if they want to get better or are having trouble. The camp is never exactly the same.” Next year’s camp will be June 23-26.
The 2015 sessions marked the 20th anniversary of the Manning Passing Academy.