Logan Kilgore grew up idolizing Brett Favre. Aspiring to become a professional quarterback, he admired Favre’s “pure love of the game” and his toughness. But while Favre was Kilgore’s favorite signal-caller, he couldn’t help but respect another future Hall of Famer.
“If you grew up watching Peyton Manning, he is a legend, and he does all the right things,” Kilgore said.
Earlier this month, he got the chance to learn from the Indianapolis Colts quarterback. Kilgore, the likely heir to the quarterback throne at Middle Tennessee State, was one of more than 30 college quarterbacks who served as counselors at the Manning Passing Academy. Peyton, Eli and patriarch Archie ran the four-day camp, which was held at Nicholls State in Thibodaux, La.
While Kilgore, Stanford’s Andrew Luck, Tennessee’s Matt Simms and Alabama’s A.J. McCarron — among others — mentored high school quarterbacks, the purpose of the camp was twofold: They were there to teach but were more like students when former NFL coach Jon Gruden, the Mannings and other professional quarterbacks spoke.
“It’s not so much surreal as it is just, you want to get all the time you can with them,” Kilgore said. “You want to remember everything. I wish I just had a tape recorder, standing there, listening to them talk about all their stories.”
Middle Tennessee State coach Rick Stockstill contacted Archie Manning and set up the opportunity for Kilgore, who was paid for his services. He was the first Blue Raider quarterback to serve as a counselor in the camp’s 16 years.
The discussions ranged from passing routes to watching game film. Peyton focused on the importance of handling hostile environments on the road. He also stressed that good body language is key for a quarterback.
That last part struck home for Kilgore, who said the most compelling piece of advice was “the importance of leadership and the importance of having your teammates trust you.”
“The quarterback position is unlike any position in football or in sports,” Kilgore said. “It is a position that requires you to be conscious of your actions all the time. It takes a long time to gain the trust of your players, and then it takes a split second to lose it.”
Kilgore witnessed such a situation firsthand last season at MTSU. Coming off a 10-3 season and a New Orleans Bowl victory, the Blue Raiders faced high expectations. Quarterback Dwight Dasher had stolen the show in 2009, becoming just the fourth player in NCAA history to throw for 2,500 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a single season.
But weeks before the 2010 season opener, it was revealed that Dasher had broken NCAA rules when he accepted a loan for a poker game. He was suspended for the first four games of his senior year, and the Blue Raiders sputtered out to a 3-6 record. Though they recovered to win their last three regular-season games and reach the GoDaddy.com Bowl, the season was remembered more for what happened off the field than on it.
At the same time, it gave Kilgore his first taste of Division I football. The former three-star recruit from Rocklin, Calif., transferred to MTSU after one season at Bakersfield (Calif.) College, where he threw for 2,512 yards and 22 touchdowns in 2009.
At MTSU, he quickly went from new guy to starter after Dasher’s suspension. He started three games, including the season opener against Big Ten foe Minnesota, and was 1-2 before an injury to his right big toe sidelined him for the rest of the season. It was a brief run, but for the 6-foot-3, 183-pounder, it offered a glimpse of the future. He threw for 540 yards and three touchdowns.
“Last year was kind of a whirlwind,” Kilgore said. “I’m not going to sit here and make any excuses, but I definitely am thankful for the opportunity now to have this whole spring and [voluntary] summer workouts … being the guy who is holding people accountable. When you know it is your team, you sort of act a lot differently.”
Stockstill hasn’t named a starter for MTSU’s season opener at Purdue on Sept. 3. Redshirt junior Jeff Murphy is expected to battle for the starting spot as he returns from an injury-riddled season that limited him to just three games as well.
But Kilgore appears to be the frontrunner.
“He has always had a big-time arm to make every throw that needs to be made for the quarterback position,” said MTSU offensive coordinator Willie Simmons, who is a former Clemson quarterback and Manning Passing Academy counselor. “The one thing he needed to develop was his physical stature. He was a real frail guy when he got here, probably around 175 pounds. One of the biggest improvements that he has made is with his body.”
In addition, Kilgore has been one of the leaders of the team’s voluntary (no coaches) workouts. Since June, he has helped organize sessions in Murfreesboro. Describing the workouts as “hit and miss” last year, Kilgore said the team meets three times a week this summer, and the sessions consistently yield 70 players.
“If guys aren’t showing up they are answering to the captains on the team,” Kilgore said. “We’ve made sure that we’ve stuck to that. … It is a high-intensity, high-rep workout, which is really good for us.”
Whether the Blue Raiders bounce back from a rollercoaster 2010 season could depend on Kilgore’s efforts.
MTSU was picked to finish third in the Sun Belt Conference and will seek to reach its third straight bowl game. The Blue Raiders also will face some formidable non-conference tests, with road trips to Purdue and Tennessee and home games against Georgia Tech and Memphis.
Kilgore isn’t fazed. He said he’d pull from his three-start experience last year. Of course, what he learned from the Manning Passing Academy will resonate as well.