The NFL Scouting Combine has been held in Indianapolis for 31 years now.
“I think we take it for granted a little bit,” says Jake Gilbert, head football coach at Westfield High School. “We can go down and watch it, people can take their kids down there. That’s a great opportunity that the NFL has given us.”
Gilbert’s team won the 5A State Championship last year. On Saturday morning, Gilbert gathered at the Colts complex with the other Indiana State High School Football champions for another great opportunity provided by the NFL.
“It’s an awesome experience to be able to hang out at the Colts facility and to go to the Combine. Not a whole lot of teams get to do this. We felt pretty blessed to be able to be here,” said Chad Welch, middle linebacker for the Westfield Shamrocks.
One of the featured speakers was center Ryan Kelly. The Colts’ first round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, one year later – Kelly says his Combine experience is mostly a blur.
“I loved the experience, it was an awesome experience,” he says. “I don’t know if I would do it again because it’s just a really long week. But looking back on it, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
And it’s one he’s happy to share with younger players.
“Anybody who’s played at this level, football has given us so much, we try to give as much back to these kids as possible,” he says. “It’s important to come in here and answer questions. I’m an open book. I’ve seen it all or heard it all or know a guy who’s done it all.”
Roman Oben is the NFL’s senior director of youth football. He knows how few high schoolers go on to play football in college – and that even fewer will play professionally. But he also knows that’s not the only place football can take them.
“I always say that if I never played a down of football after high school, I still learned a lot of football values,” he says. “There might be a general manager in this room. There might be a future owner of a team. There might be a next CEO of a company. That’s equally as important.”
And just as important as getting there is how they handle it when they do.
Former Colts defensive tackle Dan Muir says talent is part of it, but leadership is everything.
“I had just gotten married and I was in there watching film one day after practice and Coach (Tony) Dungy walks by. He looks in and he said, ‘Hey, what are you doing?’ I said, ‘I’m just watching some film.’ And he said, ‘Hey, do me a favor.’ I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘Shut the computer off and go home.’ I was like, ‘Alright, Coach.’ I’m kind of laughing. And he looked at me and he said, ‘Didn’t you just get married?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘You want to be good in football?’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Be good at home.’ And he walked out of the room. And that has always stuck with me.”
After the forum, the players loaded buses and headed down to Lucas Oil Stadium where they got to watch the NFL Combine live and in person. Afterwards, they took in the festivities at the NFL Combine Experience.
It was a way for the Colts and the NFL to celebrate football with high school players, regardless of where the game takes them next.
“We are the football authority in the state,” says Colts youth football coordinator Phil Andrews. “It’s up to us to help grow the game of football in this state and this is just one more way throughout our annual initiatives that we can create a great opportunity, celebrate the state champions, but provide that unique experience that they can latch onto and hopefully take something from what they’ve learned today.”
Football is more than a game.
“It’s really important that we are growing a generation of leaders,” says Oben. “It’s not about what level of football you end up playing at. Learn from your coaches, learn from your mentors, your guidance counselors, your grandmother, whoever is in your life that imparts wisdom.”
The NFL wants to make an impact that goes beyond the game of football.
It’s not just about finding the next great player.
It’s about changing lives, transforming communities, and leaving a legacy – one play at a time.