A friend recently told me his 13-year-old son is in a bit of a quandary. The kid is already 6 feet, 2 inches tall, athletic and smart. Coaches from every sport at his school are pulling at him: baseball, football, basketball and soccer. A couple want him to choose a sport and specialize, this before he needs to shave.
The kid just wants to play. Everything.
But when the seasons overlap, the seventh grader has to choose. It doesn’t have to be that way.
For Exhibit A, I give you: Arch Manning, the No. 1 Class of 2023 football recruit in the nation. On a recent trip to New Orleans, I watched Arch and his No. 1 ranked Newman Greenies teammates play. Basketball.
Before we really get into this, I should answer the question I get asked several times a week. That is: Where will Arch Manning — son of Cooper, grandson of Archie and Olivia, nephew of Peyton and Eli — play college football? The answer is I don’t know. I don’t think he knows. I know Grandpa Archie, the one Arch calls “Red,” doesn’t know. If there’s any news in his recruitment, it is that he has trimmed Clemson from his list. The remaining four favorites are, in alphabetical order, Alabama, Georgia, Ole Miss and Texas.
We are currently in a “dead period” of college football recruiting, which meant that no football coaching celebrities were at Saturday night’s Newman game. Nick Saban, Kirby Smart, Lane Kiffin and Steve Sarkisian have all taken in Newman basketball games this season, often bringing several of their staffers with them. Other coaches have done the same.
They have been there to be seen by Arch Manning, the quarterback prodigy who has everything you look for in a quarterback: strong arm, accuracy, athleticism, size, toughness, and quick-trigger decision making. This one also has the pedigree.
What these football coaches see before them on the basketball court is a role player, a kid who prides himself on being a good teammate. They see a sturdy, wavy-haired, competitive young man who comes off the bench and helps Newman win games by grabbing loose balls and rebounds, setting picks, making crisp passes and by playing good defense. In basketball, he is not the star. He is nonetheless a winner.
“To me, Arch is a breath of fresh air,” says his basketball coach, Randy Livingston, a former two-time national player of the year at Newman. “He enjoys being a high school athlete. He’s competitive. He loves to compete. I have known the family well since I was 12, so the family knows me and trusts me with him.
“Arch knows our system backwards and forwards. He knows the offense, knows the defense, and he rarely makes a mistake. He’s great with our younger players. He’s a great kid. We are lucky and blessed to have him. He and Will Randle (Newman’s highly recruited tight end and one of Arch’s best friends) both come off the bench and bring a real toughness to our team.”
Both play more minutes than some of the starters. Both are usually in the game at crunch time — that is, on the rare occasion Newman (23-4) has a crunch time.
For Exhibit B in this case against specialization for young athletes, I give you the Manning family. Archie Manning was a four-sport letterman at Drew High School only because they didn’t offer five. Or six. He played football, baseball, basketball and ran track.
“Doing both track and baseball sometimes got tricky,” Archie Manning said. “One day, we had a track meet and baseball game going at adjacent fields. We came in to bat just as they were lining up for the 880-relay. They hollered at me to come run the relay — and I did, in my baseball uniform.”
Archie Manning was a high school football, basketball and baseball star — so talented as a baseball shortstop he was drafted four times by Major League teams, the first time by the Braves right out of high school. The point is, he played all the sports to the detriment of none. Nobody tried to stop him. One year, a couple days after the football season ended, he scored 40 points to help Drew win a basketball game.
“Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Archie Manning said, “I think playing multiple sports makes you more well-rounded. There are certain things you do in one sport that might help you in the others.”
Says Livingston, the Newman coach: “The more well-rounded you are, the better. Look at Joe Burrow. He was a high school basketball star. Back then, lot of people thought that would be his sport. My favorite sport growing up was football. That’s what I was going to be. To this day, I regret I couldn’t play it more. You just shouldn’t box a kid in. Let them play. Let them develop. You never know what the future holds.”
Livingston was junior high and high school basketball teammates with both Cooper and Peyton Manning. They won state championships together. They also played probably a thousand games of pick-up basketball, often in the Mannings’ driveway.
“It was usually me and Archie against Peyton and Cooper,” Livingston said. “I’m telling you, Archie could still play.”
Says Cooper Manning who remembers fondly those games, “The losers had to take out the trash.”
Cooper and Ellen Manning have advocated playing multiple sports to all their three children, including daughter Mae, a high school volleyball star, now at the University of Virginia.
“I wanted them outside, running around, being active, using all their muscles,” Cooper Manning said.
That includes Heid Manning, Arch’s younger brother, the center who snaps the ball to his brother on the Newman football team.
“Heid played a lot baseball when he was younger, but he came to me one year and told me he wanted to play lacrosse,” Cooper Manning said. “So now he’s on the Newman lacrosse team and loves it. They’re good, too.”