Manning Corrals Conerly Trophy

Eli Manning topped a record-breaking season at Mississippi by winning the Conerly Trophy Thursday night. The sophomore quarterback is the third Ole Miss player to win the award, given to the Magnolia state's best college football player, since its inception in 1996. Manning and the other finalists-Jackson State quarterback Robert Kent and Tigers wide receiver T.C. Taylor - were at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum for the presentation ceremony. ``It's truly a great honor to come here with Robert and T.C.,'' Manning said. ``They both had a great season this year and for me to win this and to be even mentioned with Mr. Conerly's name is a tribute.'' The New Orleans native was the Rebels' most famous player before he started a game. The son of Ole Miss great Archie Manning and brother of former Tennessee star Peyton Manning, Eli Manning was adored just for choosing Ole Miss as a highly touted recruit. He redshirted as a freshman and served as a backup to Romaro Miller last season. Manning turned out to be as good as advertised, setting set 13 school records in his first season as a starter. He passed for 2,948 yards with 31 touchdowns and nine interceptions. ``I just wanted to go out there and be myself and just play the game that I knew how to play,'' Eli Manning said. ``I didn't really think about all the attention and the media hype. I just kept being myself.'' ``I told him he didn't have one thing that he had to live up to and Eli really loves to play football,'' Archie Manning said. ``We are very proud of him. The Conerly Trophy means a lot to our family. Charlie Conerly was my good friend. He was kind of my first hero.''

The Conerly Trophy is named after the former NFL standout, who after an war-interupted Ole Miss career, was the NFL's Rookie of the Year in 1948 and led the Giants to the 1956 NFL championship. His jersey No. 42 was retired by the Giants in 1962. The permanent Conerly Trophy, established after Conerly's death in 1996, is kept on display at the Jackson museum. The winners get a duplicate version of the bronze-cast trophy that is 19 inches tall and weighs more than 18 pounds. Previous Conerly Trophy winners from Ole Miss were Stewart Patridge (1997) and Deuce McAllister (1999). ``With the award named after Charlie Conerly, it makes Eli winning it just that much more special,'' Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe said. A panel of 60 media members from across the state voted on the award. Two votes were held. The first to determine the three finalist, the second to determine to winner. Kent, a sophomore, led the Southwestern Athletic Conference with 3,640 yards passing and ranked second in Division I-AA in total offense. Taylor was converted from quarterback to receiver during the 2000 season to make room for Kent. In 2001, Taylor set a Jackson State record for receptions with 84 for 1,234 yards and 11 touchdowns. Last year's winner was Delta State quarterback Josh Bright. Other winners are Delta State's Treg Thomas in 1996 and Mississippi State's James Johnson in 1998.