How Drew Pyne’s Manning Passing Academy Experience Offered Him Validation
Rumblings of Notre Dame sophomore quarterback Drew Pyne’s offseason ascent eventually reached the patriarch of football’s first family.
They resonated with Archie Manning enough to compel him to contact Pyne with an invitation: come be a camp counselor at the Manning Passing Academy this summer.
The annual event put on by Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning brings 40 to 50 of the best college football quarterbacks across all three NCAA divisions to work with high school campers, go through workouts and soak up knowledge in classroom sessions. Archie identifies and invites them himself.
“For him to invite you, it’s a prestigious thing,” said Thomas Morris, Pyne’s quarterback coach at QB Country since eighth grade and a Manning Passing Academy instructor. “It’s a blessing, and I think Drew definitely looked at it like that.”
Four days in Thibodaux, La., July 15-18 turned into validation for Pyne. Not that he was necessarily seeking any, but it’s another item in his mental toolbelt as Notre Dame’s starting quarterback competition heads back to its on-field portion in two weeks.
Pyne’s spring season indicated he had earned more than a token look to be the Irish’s starter. Even if Wisconsin grad transfer Jack Coan remains the odds-on favorite to be the starter, Notre Dame decided not to name one before training camp.
That’s good for Pyne. It's a credit to him for legitimately putting himself in the same discussion as an 18-game Big Ten starter who went 10-4 as the Badgers’ quarterback in 2019. And while the college quarterback workouts at the Manning Passing Academy were of the non-padded, seven-on-seven variety, Pyne’s performance in those matched his counterparts' play in Morris’ eyes.
“The biggest thing is he looked like he belonged,” Morris said. “There wasn’t a talent gap between him and any of the other top guys. It was a really deep group. You watch Drew with those guys, he was right there. It’s a confidence-booster.”
Others present included multi-year starters Sam Howell (North Carolina), Matt Corral (Ole Miss), JT Daniels (Georgia), Dillon Gabriel (UCF), Bo Nix (Auburn), D’Eriq King (Miami), Brock Purdy (Iowa State), Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) and Kedon Slovis (USC). First-year Alabama starter Bryce Young and Liberty’s Malik Willis, an early projected first-round draft pick, participated as well.
Some of them are all-conference players. Some are top NFL prospects. Pyne, meanwhile, is younger than nearly all of them and has played just 25 career snaps.
“It’s kind of affirmation that, ‘I can do this and do it at a very high level,’” Morris said. “You have to at Notre Dame. Drew has never lacked confidence, but whenever you can go compete against those guys, and when this guy made that throw and you make it just as good, I think that’s something that carries weight and adds to his confidence level.”
Pyne’s prior offseason work had already boosted his confidence, though. He began 2021 wanting to get stronger. That meant a reshaped diet and more weight room time. That dovetails into increasing his arm strength — another point of emphasis. He met Morris in early June for a week of workouts, with many of the drills designed to make him more comfortable throwing deep.
“It was a huge focus this past year,” Morris said. “‘I have to get stronger, I have to make these throws more effortlessly.’ We had a huge focus on it this offseason — big comebacks, big posts, sail routes, movement, off-platform stuff.”
It’s a lot easier to execute when the two can meet in person instead of being relegated to virtual sessions like last spring, when COVID-19 shortened Pyne’s first semester of college. Pyne threw to his brother in his yard while one of his parents filmed. Morris would watch the videos and FaceTime Pyne to discuss them.
Pyne put in that time understanding he wasn’t going to usurp three-year starter Ian Book last season. He became the backup when junior Brendon Clark suffered a knee injury, but losing Book would’ve been catastrophic for Notre Dame.
Now, though, there’s evidence to suggest Pyne is at worst a capable No. 2 who can keep the Irish’s offense functioning and its playbook largely open. He’s still in the running to start because of his stronger arm, added zip, improved accuracy and deep throws that require less effort.
Morris first noticed it all when the two met in January and again in June. Notre Dame took note of it the spring. The astute quarterback observers at the Manning Passing Academy saw it last week.
Morris highlighted one throw from a drill where Pyne faked a handoff, bootlegged to his right, reset his feet and threw across the field to the left pylon. That toss, Morris said, is a testament to Pyne’s growth as a passer.
“It was a big throw and he hit [the receiver] right in stride over the shoulder, probably about 50 yards downfield,” Morris said. “That was the throw where people were like, ‘Damn, he’s not the biggest guy on the field, but he can make big throws.”
Whether that growth pushes him into a starting job this year or not, it’s good for Notre Dame’s short- and long-term quarterback outlook to have someone make its decision take longer than perhaps initially anticipated when Coan enrolled. There sure seems to be belief in him from his coaches. And from those in the sport outside Notre Dame’s program.
That’s a good place for Pyne to be as he tries to make a move.
“This is his responsibility, something he’s wanted his whole life,” Morris said. “He knows he has a window and an opportunity.”
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