While most sports fans are pretty excited for the start of the NFL draft tonight, 13-year-old Samarth Mannikeri is really looking forward to Saturday.
That’s when he’ll make his national television debut.
Mannikeri, an eighth grader at Charles Boehm Middle School in Yardley, has been using his interactive Fuel Up to Play 60 Google Classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic to encourage his peers and schoolmates to eat right and exercise while the school district is following social distancing guidelines.
And the NFL is rewarding Mannikeri’s initiative by selecting him to set up one of the Eagles’ Day 3 draft picks with a pre-recorded message that will play on the national broadcast Saturday afternoon.
“It was quite shocking, to be honest,” Mannikeri said. “It was awesome. It was mind-blowing! It really was shocking. I was speechless. I kind of told my friends and family and they were all happy for me.”
Mannikeri became involved with Fuel Up to Play 60 — a program launched by the NFL and American Dairy Association North East that encourages kids to eat right and exercise for at least 60 minutes per day — when he was in elementary school. In recent years, Mannikeri has become more involved with the program.
And when the Pennsbury School District was forced to close its buildings in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mannikeri realized it was even more important to get his messages out. So with the help of his teachers, he’s been posting recipes for healthy smoothies, workout ideas and more to make sure his classmates continue to live a healthy lifestyle at home.
“Now, in light of the pandemic,” he said, “I kind of had an idea of posting information for my fellow students, talking about things that you can do around your neighborhood or at your home, things to live the Play 60 lifestyle, most importantly eating healthy and staying active for at least 60 minutes every day.”
This year’s NFL draft will be unique. It’s the first year the draft will be done virtually and remotely, with every front office member in their own homes and with commissioner Roger Goodell in his basement announcing picks.
In front of an Eagles backdrop, lit up by a light kit sent to him by the NFL and in an Eagles Fuel Up to Play 60 shirt that was delivered to his house, Mannikeri already recorded the video that will play during the broadcast on Saturday afternoon. It was a chance to get his message out there about the importance of eating right and exercising.
“I was really nervous. I prepared for plenty of times,” Mannikeri said. “I kind of had it memorized but I wasn’t focusing myself on memorization. I kind of wanted to make it as natural as possible. … They ended up sending me a script but I thought it was a bit too boring, perhaps. I put my own ‘Samarth’ spin on it. That’s how it kind of went.”
The NFL draft starts at 8 p.m. on Thursday night on ESPN, NFL Network and ABC and continues at 7 p.m. on Friday. But Round 4-7 begin at noon on Saturday. That’s the day Mannikeri will get his moment in the spotlight.
“It really is exciting,” Mannikeri said. “I’m excited to see myself on TV. I’m super excited for this moment. I’ve been waiting for it.”
Let’s be honest, we’re all probably going to sit on our couches and watch all seven rounds.
But when it’s over, let’s all eat something healthy and go out for a jog. That would probably make Samarth pretty happy.