Former American football quarterback Peyton Manning addresses the students at Chattanooga Preparatory School on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. He was there to help launch the school's first football program. Contributed photo from Chattanooga Prep.

The boys at Chattanooga Preparatory School got a big surprise Thursday with a visit from well-known retired athlete Peyton Manning.

Manning, a longtime NFL quarterback with the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos, was there to meet with the students and also helped the school make the special announcement that it is launching a football team next year.

The school now has a basketball and soccer team, said Head of School Brad Scott, but as Hamilton County's only all-boys public charter school there is a lot of student interest in athletics, Scott told the Times Free Press.

"Being [an] all-boys school we have a lot of interest in athletics, we are using athletics to build that student-before-athlete value and how sports can motivate us on and off the court," Scott said.

Manning visited the school during its special "Town Hall" meeting, where students are recognized for their achievements and the "Grit Belt" is handed out once a week.

"The overall theme of his talk was about setting short- and long-term goals in life and why he decided to graduate from college rather than go to the NFL early," Scott said. "Also, I think the big highlight of the meeting was the announcement that were having a football program next year and the boys are so excited about it."

Boys at the school, which is in its second year after opening in partnership with Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy in August 2018, had hints that Manning would be visiting them sometime soon, but didn't know when.

"I was mindblown to see him in the school and [for him] to come up and shake my hand because he was one of my favorite football players," said Jonathan Jackson, a sixth grader. "When I told my grandma that I was meeting Peyton Manning yesterday, she was even more excited than me that I got to meet a famous football player."

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Peyton Manning sits with students at Chattanooga Preparatory School on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Chattanooga Prep is the the county's only all-boys public charter school. Photo contributed by Chattanooga Prep.

Camper Coulter, Fred Clemons and Colin Richardson, all seventh graders, were among a group of students that got to meet with Manning before he addressed the whole school.

They were winners of the school's essay contest, which asked them why they would like to meet Manning and what they would ask him if they did get to meet him.

"He talked a lot about things that inspired him to play football," Richardson said. "One question I asked was what inspired him to go to college in Tennessee when he had so many other options."

Manning, who retired in 2015, played 18 seasons in the NFL, the majority of which were spent playing for the Colts. He spent his last four seasons with the Broncos.

He played college football for the University of Tennessee from 1994-1998 and led the Vols to the 1997 SEC Championship during his senior season. His younger brother is New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning.

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Peyton Manning speaks at Chattanooga Preparatory School on Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019. Photo contributed by Chattanooga Prep.

Coulter is a quarterback on his own football team and said he wanted to ask Manning for tips on "life and football."

"When he talked in the auditorium, he got me very excited for our football program," Coulter said. "He helped a lot of people understand how football and academics come together and academics are first, football is second."

Clemons added that he is really excited to have the opportunity to play football alongside his classmates next year. He and Coulter said there are a lot of boys at the school who already play football, so they expect their team to do well against other middle schools in the area. 

Dean of Students Eugene "Joe" Banks, formerly of The Howard School, will be head coach of the school's football team.

Scott said school administrators and teachers are already seeing the impact of Manning's visit and motivational talk with the boys.

He said he overheard students Friday morning telling each other, "I have to set my goals today, like Peyton said!" 

Contact Meghan Mangrum at or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.