H.S. coach: Eli was always a Manning

  • Ian O'Connor [ARCHIVE]
  • ESPNNewYork.com | February 4, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS -- Even though he has spent his career inside the relative anonymity of high school sports, Frank Gendusa knows as much about Peyton and Eli Manning as any football lifer in America. Gendusa stands among the rarest of the rare: He was an offensive coordinator for one future Super Bowl MVP (Peyton) and the head coach for another (Eli).

So when Gendusa swears that the quarterback of the New York Giants was just as good as the quarterback (for now) of the Indianapolis Colts at Isidore Newman in New Orleans, and that it should come as no surprise that little brother might surpass big brother Sunday as a two-time Super Bowl champ, his is a most credible voice.

Eli Manning
AP Photo/David Rae MorrisIt didn't take Eli Manning long to show his high school coach that he had the goods.

"I'm not trying to cop out, but it's impossible to say which one was a better quarterback when I had them," said Gendusa, now the athletic director and head football and baseball coach at Fort Worth (Texas) Country Day School.

"Their high school careers were almost identical if you look at the stats. They were both three-year starters for us. Peyton had [7,528] passing yards, and Eli had [7,421]. They both completed about 60 percent of their passes, and both threw more than 80 touchdown passes. It's uncanny how close their skills were. The one difference is that Peyton had a little better personnel around him."

Meaning little brother had to do more elevating at Isidore Newman than big brother did.

"Eli made us a better team and made the players around him better by what he did, not by what he said," Gendusa said. "His leadership qualities made us successful, because everybody wants to follow a guy who's working hard. Nobody outworked Eli in the weight room."

Eli's big break at Newman came during his freshman year, when Gendusa suspended his senior quarterback for one game over a breach of team rules. It wasn't a Wally Pipp moment -- young Manning was a one-and-done varsity starter before the senior returned to the lineup.

But Eli's one appearance as a freshman among the big boys made it clear to the Newman coaches that they had another Peyton in the making.

"We were playing our rival school, and Eli didn't do anything spectacular," Gendusa said. "But he controlled the offense, played smart, and didn't make any mistakes. He showed enough leadership in that game to make us believe we had something special."

As Eli matured over time, Gendusa said, "He was similar to Peyton in the way he looked physically and in his throwing motion. But where they were different big-time was in their personalities. Peyton was a real fiery go-get-'em type, and Eli was really laid-back. We called him 'Easy.' He didn't say a whole lot to me for a while except 'Yes sir, no sir,' but he really knew how to lead by example."

The Manning patriarch, Archie, didn't assume the role of stage dad from hell, despite his own success as an NFL quarterback. Gendusa said Archie never offered advice on how to develop his sons unless it was solicited by one of the coaches; Gendusa once asked him for ideas on how to get the tight end more involved in Peyton's offense, and Archie obliged.

Peyton and Eli were coveted by major college programs across the country, but little brother didn't take to the recruiting process as much as big brother did. "Peyton loved it, because that's the kind of personality he had," Gendusa said. "Eli was just the opposite."

Peyton chose Tennessee after visits to schools the likes of Stanford, future home of his probable replacement, Andrew Luck ("I don't seem to fit in out there," Peyton told Gendusa). Eli decided to follow his father, not his brother, and signed at Ole Miss.

"Eli didn't worry about following Archie or Peyton because he just never let stuff like that bother him," Gendusa said. "People sometimes saw Eli's demeanor and didn't realize that he's an intense competitor whose motor is running all the time. He always burned to succeed, and he wasn't going to care what people said or wrote about him in a big market.

"That's why I was happy when the Giants got him in the draft. I always thought Eli was destined to be a perfect fit in New York."

Ian O'Connor is the author of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." "Sunday Morning With Ian O'Connor" can be heard every Sunday from 9 to 11 a.m. ET on ESPN New York 1050.

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