Jason Pugh, NSU Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations
NATCHITOCHES – Shelton Eppler’s statistics during his first season as the Northwestern State quarterback put him among the nation’s best FCS passers.
An invitation to the prestigious Manning Passing Academy helped solidify him as one of the top quarterbacks in the country, regardless of the level of competition.
So when Eppler found himself in Thibodaux for three days this past week, he had one idea.
“I wanted to be like a vacuum, getting all the knowledge I could from the Mannings to the other quarterbacks to high school kids – you can learn from them, too,” he said. “It was an awesome experience, and I’m glad I got the chance to go there and learn.”
The Manning Passing Academy has been in existence for more than 20 years, tutoring the best passers in the country along the bayou in south Louisiana.
While Eppler said he was not completely familiar with the academy going in, his position coach certainly was.
“I’ve worked it, and I’ve participated in it as a camper,” NSU quarterbacks coach Anthony Scelfo said. “I’ve done it for a long time. My dad (Southeastern Louisiana head coach Frank Scelfo) was one of the coaches for the first year. Any time you get a chance to be around those guys and soak up what they know, the amount of football knowledge they have built up, it’s pretty special. Plus, you have your peers from around the country, and you get to interact with them.”
Eppler said he took plenty away from the MPA on and off the field, some of which made him take a step back and evaluate where he was.
“I think it was the second day we were there, we were eating dinner and you see (Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning) sitting at the next table over,” he said. “It was like, ‘How am I here now?’ I loved every part of it. They’re an amazing family. They were very genuine, and the class they showed was awesome.”
Eppler threw for 2,693 yards in nine games as a junior and twice set Northwestern State’s single-game touchdown pass record with six scoring tosses. His 474 passing yards in a 49-48 win at Lamar established a school single-game record. He was part of a heavy Southland Conference contingent at the MPA.
“It was awesome getting to connect with those guys and see where they come from,” he said. “Me, (Nicholls’) Chase Fourcade, (Abilene Christian’s) Luke Anthony, (Southeastern Louisiana’s) Chason Virgil and (McNeese’s) Cody Orgeron all got along. We still have a few rivalries here and there, but this weekend was about fun and learning from them and telling them we’re going to get the best of them.”
Interacting with other campers – familiar or unfamiliar – is a staple of the MPA.
“You’re going to take things you like from other guys, so not only are you soaking it up from three of the best who have ever done it, but also some of the best quarterbacks in the country,” Scelfo said. “You can’t ask for a better three days of quarterback play than what you get down there.”
Eppler soaked in and vacuumed up a great deal of knowledge of what a quarterback needs to do on and off the field.
Some of it pushed him out of his comfort zone – “I had never been under center, so taking a five-step drop was different” – but it ultimately should pay dividends for both himself and for Northwestern State.
“The leadership role the Mannings have some in their careers,” Eppler said of the key takeaway from the three days in Thibodaux. “No matter where you are, people are watching. You want to benefit future football players and athletes, because you never know how you can affect people.