Stephen Herron fell in love with football the way most kids fall in love with the game.
“I picked up a ball when I was about three, took pictures with it, and ever since then I knew I loved it.”
Growing up a Colts fan in New Albany, his dad, Steve, coached him in little league. He idolized players like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
Now a junior at Louisville’s Trinity High School, on Saturday, Herron was on the field at the Colts practice facility as one of the top 100 high school football players at the Rivals 100 Five-Star Challenge.
“They’re the top guys in the country and to be in a facility like this, looking up to guys like Dwight and Robert, it’s cool to see this come full circle,” said Colts Youth Football Coordinator Phil Andrews. “We’re just thrilled to be able to host this event, working with NCSA and Rivals to get this done.”
It was an opportunity for the players to challenge each other, measure themselves against their peers, and showcase their skills.
“I think this may have started back when I was these kids’ age and aspiring to go play in college,” said Izell Reese, Executive Vice President of NCSA.
Based on his own experience navigating the college recruiting process himself, Reese wanted to reach out and help kids in the same position. A walk-on at the University of Alabama – Birmingham, he worked his way up to a full scholarship and the NFL Draft.
“A lot of hard work, a lot of determination, a little bit of luck,” he said. “And thank God, I got an opportunity and got drafted by the Cowboys in ’98 and played the majority of my NFL career there and also with the Broncos and Buffalo Bills.”
As Reese’s playing career wound down, his desire to give back ramped up.
“I just felt like this was my calling, this was what I was meant to be doing – to share a motivating story to hopefully motivate them. Even though they’re blessed with that talent, it’s about what you’re doing on the field, off the field. Even though we’re on the field today, it’s more than that.”
The final stop on a 12-city tour, the Rivals camps are an opportunity for players to run drills, compete in challenges, and show the world what they’re capable of.
“A part of this is congratulations to a lot of these kids. A lot of them have 10, 15, 20 offers from different universities. They’re just going into their senior year, so they will continue to get some more offers because of this and college coaches are watching.”
It’s like the NFL Combine, only for high school players hoping to land an offer from a Division I school. And because many of these players will find themselves back in Indianapolis in four or five years, it was also a chance to build relationships.
“These are players they may see one day here in Indy, that will be teammates of theirs within the college ranks of major Division I football programs,” said Reese. “A lot of these kids already know each other and are aware of one another. So to connect them, become a part of this bigger fraternity playing this sport – it’s brotherhood, it’s giving back, it’s just all of that wrapped in one.”
It’s also an opportunity for them to grow as leaders.
“Football can take you far in life. And we want them to continue to hear that,” Reese said. “And who better to hear that from than former active players that have been there?”
One of those players, former Colts defensive lineman Daniel Muir, spoke to the players about using the game as a platform.
“If there’s one thing I can tell all of you here, it’s this. Realize that you have the power sitting right in your hands to not only change what’s going on around you, but change every atmosphere you walk in, every building you walk in. Make it positive.”
As the keepers of the game, it’s helping to form the future of football.
“Being the football authority in the state, we take it upon ourselves to help further develop the game of football,” said Andrews. “We’ve got a platform being an NFL team – all 32 of us, we need to take pride in helping to develop this game and working with those entities that are locking arms with us to make sure that happens.”
Because the future of the NFL is in their hands.
“We were just talking about the banners on the wall and Peyton Manning and how interesting it is to actually be here watching all these kids,” said Sherry Herron. “And one day, some of them will be in here. The next generation to hang the banners on the wall.”
And she’s hoping her son, Stephen, is one of them.