Imagine being surrounded by three guys who combine for 45 years of experience taking snaps from behind center in the NFL. However, it’s the one guy who’s never played a snap in the NFL who provides the moment that you still remember and laugh about nearly a month later.
That was the case for Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson, who spent June 21-24 in Thibodaux, Louisiana as one of the 39 college quarterback counselors for the Manning Passing Academy.
Cooper Manning, the oldest of the Manning brothers, suffered spinal stenosis and was forced to hang the cleats up on his playing career. Jackson contends that Cooper is the most eccentric of the three brothers.
“He’s hilarious and wild,” Jackson said. “He was probably the highlight of the camp. He was always talking and joking and making fun of the campers and making fun of us. I threw a deep post off my back foot and he was like ‘Well, that one’s not going to go too far.’ I think he got me pretty good.”
And so began Jackson’s week in the Louisiana heat, helping coach hundreds of campers in the 23rd year of the Manning Passing Academy, a yearly football camp run by Archie, Peyton, Eli, and yes, Cooper. It was a time for Jackson to be a sponge and soak up all the knowledge from the family that has become synonymous with quarterback for the past four decades.
“That was awesome,” Jackson said. “It was a great experience. We would coach the kids, then after that the Mannings would work us out. That was pretty cool. You get to hang out with them after and eat dinner. It was me, the Wisconsin QB, Nick Fitzgerald [of Mississippi State], Peyton and Eli all eating dinner one night. It’s something I won’t forget.”
Jackson now enters his redshirt sophomore season, and coach Justin Fuente has a returning starting quarterback for the first time at the helm of Virginia Tech. Last season, Jackson tallied 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, breaking Michael Vick’s freshman record by passing for 2,991 yards. It’s little moments like his time at the Manning Passing Academy that could have a big impact for the Hokies in the 2018 season.
“There was a lot we could take away,” Jackson said. “We did a Q&A session with the Mannings where it was just the quarterbacks and them. I got some notes down about how they go about studying film. What concepts they like, I even asked them. Mental aspect going into games. You can take away a lot from it.”
The Ann Arbor, Michigan native even began to catch a glimpse that the quarterback position is judged by so much more than just your performance on the field. The signal caller has to be a leader in the locker room and in the community. Jackson was able to get a sampling of that in his role as counselor.
“It was really cool,” Jackson said. “To be able to coach those kids who want to be where you’re at. They all look up to you. They ask me hundreds of questions about what everything is like. What did you do to get there, everything like that. It was a lot of fun too to be able to coach them. I have never coached a camp before. I was just kind of making up drills and hoping it would help them out. It was a great time.”
In his second season as starter, it’s all about taking the next step in his development and avoiding a sophomore slump. Fuente has noticed Jackson’s determination to up his game and continue to progress.
“The thing I like about Josh is the thing I like about a lot of our guys,” Fuente said. “We use this term a lot, and it’s ‘challengeable.’ If I issue you a challenge are you willing to accept it? As a team when we started this offseason, I didn’t think we were a very challengeable group. I think we’re making strides. Josh is a very challengeable person. I think he has taken that challenge and will continue to take that challenge.”
Jackson has spent the offseason looking to become a more complete quarterback with a better feel for Fuente’s system. The 6-foot-1, 216-pounder has made every effort to be that ‘challengeable’ player, letting his actions speak loudly to his teammates at the summer workouts.
“Definitely work on just knowing defenses better, knowing the offense better,” Jackson said. “Working on creating when I get out the pocket. RPO’s, pulling the ball out faster, everything like that. Just kind of continue it on and get better.
“Especially in college you have to be there day in and day out. You can’t take breaks. We have workouts tomorrow. Just because I have all of this [at ACC Kickoff] doesn’t mean I can take tomorrow off and not work as hard. You have to bring the same work ethic every day and try to be a younger guy who everyone can look up to.”
Virginia Tech’s preparations are underway for the 2018 season. Jackson and Hokies fans hope it’s a season where Cooper Manning can look back and put his joking nature aside, instead offering praise for a job well done.
“I’m ready to get to practice and play football,” Jackson said.