It took Mitch Leidner just three seasons to go from a quarterback with two college offers to one working with Peyton and Eli Manning.
The Gophers starter was a camp counselor, along with other college quarterbacks, at the annual Manning Passing Academy in June, helping the two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and their family mentor young passers.
“It was just an unbelievable experience,” Leidner said Friday at Big Ten media days. “It was a lot of fun. It was a lot of work but at the same time it was so rewarding because of all the things you got to experience there.”
Leidner soaked up knowledge from the two Mannings at the camp, as well as New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock.
He also picked things up from his roommates, Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight, Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keaton and North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams.
From Peyton, Leidner learned if you have an accuracy problem, you have a footwork problem. From Eli, he gained tips on how to keep your body healthy during the season, important for Leidner after he battled a knee and toe injury last season.
“Peyton and Eli have been playing in the league for so long, they’re healthy week in and week out and that’s a huge thing for quarterbacks – maintaining your body throughout the season,” Leidner said.
After the camp, Leidner took a number of drills he picked up back to Minnesota to share with his teammates. The drills covered skills such as footwork, getting the ball out quickly and throwing on the run.
And Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill said Leidner brought back something else with him: confidence.
““He was a different kid when he came back from Manning's camp,” Kill said Tuesday at a press conference.
The Gophers need Leidner to be different this season to reach their goal of a Big Ten West Division title. They were one win away last year, but a passing attack that finished 13th in the Big Ten in yards per game held them back.
Leidner himself battled bouts of inconsistency, standing out in wins against Iowa and Nebraska but faltering against Ohio State and Wisconsin. For the season, Leidner finished 117th out of 123 qualified college passers in completion percentage at 51.5 percent.
“Mitch is a hard-nosed, tough kid. Intense competitor but sometimes that can get the best of you,” Kill said at Big Ten media days. “If you have a turnover or something goes wrong, that’s what we’ve got to teach Mitch is just stay level.”
Kill said Tuesday he heard Leidner performed well at the camp, and mentioned how once former Gophers running back David Cobb’s confidence picked up his career started to soar.
Now he hopes the same thing is happening with his starting quarterback.
I really think I’ve stepped up my game this year both mentally and physically,” Leidner said at Big Ten media days, noting he’s changed up his footwork and mechanics. “I’ve thrown the football I feel the best that I ever have before.”