David Cutcliffe sat on the wooden stands inside the Isidore Newman School gymnasium in uptown New Orleans and told his old friends he was praying for their son. Arch Manning, he of a coiled mop and a right arm touched by the gods, was in a baggy jersey playing in a high school basketball game in January 2020, coming off a freshman football season that made most recruiters flush with intrigue. As a 15-year-old starter, the first freshman to start at Newman in 40 years, he threw for 2,438 yards, 34 touchdowns and six interceptions and had a 65 percent completion rate. The college football world knew of Arch early, as videos of the Gen Z Manning version slinging the ball around took off on the internet when he was just a middle-schooler. In the matter of months, he’d be the most talked-about, tweeted-about, rumored-about high school player in the country for the next several years. But the fall of 2019 expedited an experience destined to be his.

Cooper and Ellen Manning were in the early stages of a magnificently magnified recruiting reality. “Life was already going 900 miles an hour then,” Cutcliffe says of that visit. Nothing radically unfamiliar to this family, but still, an overwhelming experience few others will ever undergo. Cutcliffe voices prayer since he knows what it’s like to recruit a Manning – he landed two eventual Super Bowl winners from the same family, one an NFL Hall of Famer and perhaps the other one day, both uncles of Arch who, at one point, were also at the epicenter of the national football recruiting fray. As Tennessee’s offensive coordinator in the early 1990s, Cutcliffe signed Peyton, and later in the decade, as head coach at Ole Miss, he signed Eli.

“I made the decision a long time ago to not buy a lottery ticket ever,” Cutcliffe says, “because I’ve already won it coaching both Peyton and Eli. Why would I waste $5?”

Arch, however, has it exceedingly more difficult than uncles Peyton and Eli ever did coming out of Newman, says Cutcliffe. Arch is a teenage quarterback phenom in the ever-evolving social media era. A five-star recruit, who in 27 varsity games has thrown 72 career touchdowns, who also has dozens of fake Instagram pages created by random people dedicated to him and only him. As a freshman, he had Peyton breaking down his Friday night performances with him in person. In the years since, Arch opens his phone to lengthy voice memos from his uncle dissecting his outings. Interview requests for the consensus No. 1 recruit in America routinely bombard those around him and more often than not go unfulfilled.

When Arch was an eighth-grader with so much talent that coaches across the country were booking trips to New Orleans, Cooper, the eldest son of former New Orleans Saints quarterback Archie and wife Olivia, told Newman head coach Nelson Stewart that the family wanted to try to lasso the impending recruiting tornado as early as possible.

“It’s about being your own person — nobody is going to tell him where to go,” Stewart says. “It really is his own path.”

Cooper said he wanted to keep it old-school — as out-of-the-spotlight as possible and in-person with only the necessary parties for the most sought-after recruit in decades. No rumors. No leaks.

“Normal as possible,” Cutcliffe repeats back. “Whatever that is these days.”

As the Mannings once more prepare a young quarterback for potential stardom — away from the influencers, away from the noise, away from the taxing part of this entertainment business that is now recruiting — it’s worth remembering that there was a time when the football world revolved around two other quarterbacks who donned Newman green. When the headquarters of landing the next star signal-caller meant dialing into or dropping in on the Manning household on First Street in the Garden District.

Archie and Olivia Manning let everyone in. Those they already knew, and those they had yet to meet. Reporters from New York to Atlanta to Gainesville, Fla., to Knoxville, Tenn., to Jackson, Miss., and beyond asked for permission to visit the Mannings in New Orleans. Archie and Olivia had them over for dinner; they let photographers capture Archie in his study talking to coaches. All to discuss the theoretical future of a teenager in the middle of an impressive growth spurt: one Peyton Williams Manning. Starting in the summer of 1993, newspapers from across the nation booked flights for writers to descend on the Crescent City to get a sense of the next Manning, a senior quarterback at Newman, who had it all.

Archie was already a football noble of the South, having starred at Ole Miss and later becoming the face of enduring grit during some of the most unforgiving years in Saints history. Archie was, at his peak, according to those who know the family well, the best athlete in the family. He was always on the move, sprinting for his football life, playing on a team that failed time and time again to protect him from a litany of injuries that shortened his career.

So as Peyton grew from a gangly 6-foot-1 youngster into a strapping 6-foot-5 quarterback who could fling the ball 70 yards in the smothering Louisiana humidity, Archie and Olivia were well aware of what was to come. Bobby Bowden and Phillip Fulmer and Billy Brewer and Dennis Erickson knocked on the door. Steve Spurrier and Lloyd Carr and Lou Holtz called regularly. The fall season of 1993 became the season of Peyton. Recruiting really started humming his junior year, but come his last year at Newman, it was ablaze with pressure and interest. As his prospects ballooned, as the college football world yearned for any sort of time with him, he regaled his Newman teammates with stories of his visits.

He jogged out onto the field at The Big House in Ann Arbor, he slapped the banner at Notre Dame and attended Florida’s spring game with Archie and dissected Spurrier’s Run N’ Shoot from the stands. In November 1993, John Ed Bradley of Sports Illustrated wrote a cover story on the rising high school football star that Newman teammates still remember in detail to this day.