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Manning camp gives relief to Katrina victims

THIBODAUX, La. (July 8, 2006) -- Soon enough, Peyton and Eli Manning will be trying to outdo one another in primetime on the opening Sunday of the NFL regular season.

This weekend, however, they're working together in south Louisiana's summer heat, helping young players such as Tahlako Williams and Mike Smith get their minds off the sagging, gutted homes that surround their practice field back at flood-damaged St. Augustine High School in New Orleans.

"Everybody who lives in this state was affected by the hurricanes, whether it affected you or you know somebody who was affected, so we're proud to have this camp again," Peyton Manning said July 7 between sessions of the Manning Passing Academy at Nicholls State University. "I think in small ways, sports plays a role in the recovery process."

The academy, started by former Saints quarterback Archie Manning, has been helping high school-age players from around the country work on passing, running and receiving skills for 11 years. Archie Manning's sons and a host of coaches and college players come to help out.

But for a number of players at Nicholls' idyllic, tree-lined, red brick campus about 50 miles southwest of New Orleans -- a place that narrowly escaped the devastation caused by hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- this summer's camp represents more than a chance to improve football skills.

"It's good to be out here because, man, back home, as we're doing the practices we're seeing how devastating (Katrina) was to our city," said Smith, who will finish his high school career at St. Augustine after spending last season in Missouri City, Texas.

"So it's good to come out here and see things where just living is like, 100 percent. It's good to be out here and work with these people. They take time with us and I appreciate it."

It's a special time for the Mannings as well. Archie Manning still lives in New Orleans, where long after his career he has retained celebrity status. Since the Giants' season ended in January, Eli Manning estimates he has made at least a half-dozen trips home, giving time and money to his native city.

Meanwhile, Peyton Manning's PeyBack Foundation has given more than $100,000 to about a dozen New Orleans-area nonprofit groups that work with children in recent months.

Even during the 2005 football season shortly after Katrina, the two star quarterback brothers were among the first celebrities to be seen on the ground in Louisiana, unloading relief supplies.

"This is where we grew up, so I always enjoy coming back," Eli Manning said. "It's a tough situation and I'm just supportive of New Orleans. A lot of things need to be done, but I have faith they'll get it back."

Over at St. Augustine, the weight room has been cleaned of muck but the weights, rusting from weeks submerged in salt water, have yet to be replaced. Williams and Smith said they make do with the old equipment.

Williams was rescued by helicopter from the roof of his house after Katrina. The quarterback, who'll be a senior this season, spent last fall playing wide receiver in order to get on the field at Woodlands High School near Houston.

Smith was able to remain a running back at Hightower High School, where he moved in with relatives and found himself playing for a team called the Hurricanes.

"I thought somebody was playing a joke on me," Smith said.

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