Top quarterbacks among characters at Manning Passing Academy

THIBODUAX — Jameis Winston, coming off one of the most successful seasons in college football history, sat on one side of the room during the media session at the Peyton Manning Passing Academy.

About a dozen reporters surrounded the Florida State quarterback who won the Heisman trophy and led the Seminoles to a national championship.

Across the room sat D.J. Williams, the Grambling quarterback whose 2013 season wasn’t quite as thrilling.

The Tigers won one just game. They had three different coaches during their season of turmoil. And of course there was the highly-publicized team boycott that led to the team forfeiting a game against SWAC foe Jackson State.

But Williams, entering his final season at Grambling, says 2013 is now in the past.

“We have great expectations,” said Williams. “I would call it Grambling expectations. We have been down the past couple years, but that’s not Grambling. Everybody in Louisiana knows that’s not Grambling. So I think we have the right Grambling expectations, and we are going to get back to playing Grambling football.”

Williams admits things weren’t easy last season. His father Doug started the season as coach, but had his contract bought out after the second game of the season.

“It was probably one of the toughest times I ever had in my life,” D.J. Williams said. “But looking back on it, it was probably one of the best because I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for those times. Tough times build good character. We stuck through it, we stayed steadfast and we are ready for the season to get rolling.”

He says his dad, now working with in the Washington Redskins front office, helped him get through the season.

“He told me to just be me and to push through and to be tough,” D.J. Williams said.

Williams was attending the Manning camp for the second straight year.

“It’s the same, just hotter,” he said. “You learn how to be a pro. You throw with them and you see how consistent Peyton and Eli are. So you learn to be a pro, but you learn how to have fun at the same time.”

Mannion on Brandin Cooks

Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns last season.

About one-third of those yards and half of those touchdowns went to Brandin Cooks, now a rookie with the New Orleans Saints.

So Mannion knows perhaps better than anyone just what the Saints are getting.

“First of all, he is a great player, but he is also a great teammate,” Mannion said. “He is a guy who works extremely hard and gets the other guys to work hard with him. We are obviously going to miss him.”

Mannion says Cooks’ biggest asset is what he does once the ball gets in his hands.

“He’s really remarkable after the catch,” Mannion said. “We ran the fly sweep a lot. At some schools it may be looked at as a trick play, a gimmick play. But for us, it became a part of our base offense just because he was so good after the catch. If we can find more ways to get him the ball, we knew he had a chance to make a ton of big plays. He is good at a lot of stuff.”

And off the field?

“He is a great teammate and he is fun to be around because he has all of these little quirks,” Mannion said with a laugh. “He is a goofball, but he is serious when it comes to football. For example, he paints his toenails the color of the team he is playing the next week ... I am so excited for him, especially the way they traded up for him. I talked to him about it and he loves it here. It’s a great organization, and he’s happy to work with Drew Brees.”

Ex-LSU commit in Louisiana

Cincinnati quarterback Gunner Kiel returned to Louisiana this week.

There was a time when Kiel appeared headed here.

He originally committed to LSU, but changed his mind and ended up at Notre Dame before then transferring to Cincy.

That de-commitment didn’t go over well with the LSU faithful.

Kiel wasn’t surprised.

“It was tough to do,” Kiel said. “I knew I was going to get bashed for my decision, but I wouldn’t change it for the world ... I knew how strong the LSU community was and how committed the fans were. It doesn’t bother me. It’s all in the past now, and I’m looking forward to the future.”

It’s been a long wait for Kiel. He dressed out for Notre Dame in the national championship game against Alabama two seasons ago, but had to sit out at Cincinnati this past season because of the NCAA transfer rules.

“I cannot wait,” he said. “I haven’t played in three years. To sit out last year and not even dress or get to put on my jersey was terrible. It was an awful, awful feeling. When you play quarterback, you want to be on the field and keep your troops in line. I sat out a year,

but it felt like a decade. Gosh, it was awful.”

Kiel says it was good to be back in the state for the Manning camp.

“I love Louisiana,” he said. “Whenever I came on my visits, I loved the people and I loved the environment. But I never knew how hot it was until today. I’m still getting used to the heat. I love this place. I’m happy to be back and I’m going to keep coming back.”

Kiel will return to Louisiana when the Bearcats play Tulane on Halloween night.