(tncms-asset)65f5d320-830b-11e9-acd3-00163ec2aa770 —(/tncms-asset)The summer before Zac Thomas’ ninth-grade year, he attended the Manning Passing Academy.

Thomas, Appalachian State‘s starting quarterback, spent four days on Nicholls State’s campus in Thibodaux, La., learning from football’s equivalent of the royal family — Archie, Eli and Peyton Manning — as well as the top college starters at the time.

Thomas, an Alabama native, would go on to thrive as a dual-threat QB at Hewitt-Trussville High before joining the Mountaineers program. Last season, his first as a starter, the then-sophomore became the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year after throwing 21 touchdowns and running for 10 more.

It’s why he’ll get to experience the other side of the academy later this month. Thomas will be one of the camp’s counselors this summer, the 24th year of the academy’s existence. Thomas is the second quarterback to represent App State at the Manning Passing Academy, joining Taylor Lamb as the only other Mountaineer with that distinction.

“Honestly man, it’s just a blessing,” Thomas said of the camp, which will be held from June 27 to June 30. “This past year, I had a really good year, and just seeing some of the stuff pay off that I’ve put in a lot of work for. And getting that call, saying that I’m going to be a counselor, it’s just awesome.”(tncms-asset)62f2b0bc-830b-11e9-a45a-00163ec2aa771 —(/tncms-asset)

Thomas will be surrounded by players such as Trevor Lawrence of Clemson, Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Justin Herbert of Oregon, players who are considered to be the best college passers right now. Even more exciting, Thomas said, is the opportunity to work with young football players and make the same impact on them that his Manning counselors made on him.

When he attended the camp in 2013, Thomas said his counselor was former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner. Thomas didn’t get to spend the whole four days with Manziel, who ended up leaving the academy early that year, but Thomas couldn’t help but notice the passion Manziel had for the sport.

“Besides what he does off the field, on the field, the type of competitor he is and how much he loves football and stuff like that, I mean, I was just impressed,” Thomas said.

The camp also allowed Thomas to watch the mechanics of future NFL pros. Marcus Mariota, the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner and now the starting quarterback with the Tennessee Titans, was far and away Thomas’s favorite to study on the field.

“Just everything about him,” Thomas said of Mariota. “His demeanor — he wasn’t cocky at all. He just came out there and competed to the best of his ability and did everything he could.”(tncms-asset)9be46378-8303-11e9-b591-00163ec2aa772 —(/tncms-asset)

An argument could be made that Thomas is somewhat a melding of those two. As far as stature and overall playing style, Thomas (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) mirrors Manziel (6-1, 210 in college, according to the Texas A&M athletics website) with his rocket arm and running ability. But Thomas’ demeanor and mentality — he’s on the quiet side with a heavy focus on study — strikes the same chords he saw from Mariota.

Thomas entered last season as an unknown. After thriving as a starter in 2018, he earned the chance to work with the Mannings and their combined 46 NFL seasons of expertise.

And with the campers — there are about 1,200 of them, according to the Manning Passing Academy, that are around to work with as many players and coaches as possible — Thomas hopes he can convey the need to work hard.

“Really just to compete. Even if you’re competing in the football field, competing in life, always just compete in everything we do,” Thomas said. “These kids, they’re coming here for a reason. They’re trying to learn from these guys.

“I think it’s just an honor to be able to teach these kids. Hopefully they pull a couple things away from it.”(tncms-asset)7ad22468-830d-11e9-9e0b-00163ec2aa773 —(/tncms-asset)

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