“It’s that time of year. You can feel it, can’t you?” said Daniel Muir. “I used to get excited adjusting my chinstrap when I first put that helmet on again.”
The former Colts defensive lineman stood on the field at Pike High School on Wednesday morning. Gathered around him were dozens of high school football players from across Central Indiana.
“It’s all about competing. But it’s about doing it with respect, doing it with integrity,” he said. “Because you know what really matters? The name on the back of your jersey, the name that you filled out on the slip to participate – that’s what matters. You want to represent yourself the right way. You want to represent your family the right way.”
With their coaches looking on, they also wanted to represent their team the right way.
“This is the first annual Play Football showcase and 7-on-7,” said Phil Andrews, youth football coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts. “With the NFL’s movement with Play Football and celebrating the game of football and everything that it provides, this will hopefully be a staple event for all of us clubs to latch on with the NFL, lock arms, and provide a professional experience for these kids to jump start their football season, but also have fun in an NFL environment.”
And that’s what they did last week at Pike High School in Indianapolis. A first of its kind event, on Wednesday and Thursday more than 200 players and 50 coaches from 16 Indiana high schools got an early start on the season with a unique experience to test their skills, measure themselves against their peers, gain valuable information on the recruiting process, and get out and play the game they love.
“Between the 7-on-7, getting a chance to go through a showcase if you will, with combine testing as well as one-on-ones, that’s exactly what you see in these all-star or select type events,” said former Cowboys defensive back Izell Reese, now with Next College Student Athlete. “So, to bring it back to the high school to make it more scholastic and say, ‘Hey, we can conduct all of these types of events right through your own high school,’ and bringing in the high school coach and keeping them together as a team is what this is all about.”
Ultimately, it’s about creating opportunities.
“For these kids to be out here having the NFL, USA Football, and the Colts support this, with the opportunity to have free testing that’s going to be sent to college coaches across the nation, to have the eligibility, the education from the NCAA is just amazing,” said Dan Van Norton, NFL youth strategy coordinator.
So, why do it in Indiana?
“The Colts have a great youth department. They’re in the community, not to mention, the entire state,” said Chris Terranova, youth football strategist for the NFL. “They’re one of the organizations that we really had to work with because they’re the ones that have the pulse of the community, they know the high schools, and they have the credibility to make something like this happen.”
And the home of the Red Devils was just the place to do it.
“Pike High School just has everything you need,” Terranova said. “It’s better than most college campuses. There are three full football fields. The inside facility is top notch. The training area is unbelievable. So, this facility is by far one of the best high schools I’ve seen throughout the entire country.”
Robert Faulkens, assistant commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, said there’s a good reason for that.
“We can attribute that, in no uncertain terms to the success of the Colts and how they’ve helped us get better. We’ve got better coaches, we’ve got better players, we’ve got better facilities. Indiana schools have always had great facilities – but now, you can see them on display with the football programs and it’s pretty special.”
Faulkens saw the NFL’s Play Football showcase as a chance for Indiana to showcase itself as well.
“It’s a good time for the NFL to see that Indiana takes football very seriously and it’s not just a basketball state. Look at this facility. You don’t put this kind of money into a facility if the sport isn’t important.”
Bill Peebles has been coaching football for more than 20 years. Now the head coach at Lawrence Central High School, he said having an NFL presence in high school football has changed the landscape of the game in Indiana.
“There’s a reason the Colts are the premium sponsor of our state championship game,” he said. “They provide a lot of resources and it’s had an effect on the field. Central Indiana football, when you talk about recruiting, is one of the top 10 in the country. Twenty years ago, we weren’t on the map. Nobody recruited in Central Indiana. Now, everybody walks through the doors of all the big high schools in the city.”
Regardless of whether they go on to play in college or the NFL, the lessons kids learn playing football will pay off in life.
“Their involvement in this game can teach them so much that they can take to an internship, they can take and apply to their studies, and they can even take to apply to their career,” Van Norton said. “We want to really stress the values that students learn from this game and how they can apply that in life to be successful.”
Because years later, it’s not about the wins and losses, it’s not about the trophies and titles, it’s about how the game shaped their lives – how it took boys and molded them into young men, how it prepared them to be teammates, coaches, husbands, and fathers.
Just ask two guys who played at the highest level.
“How much would you pay to be back in this position?” Muir asked.
“I’d give my right arm,” said Reese. “It feels like you never left when you’re around it.”
Ultimately, everyone leaves the game.
But the game never leaves them.
“You know that feeling around July, August?” said Muir, “You start to smell the grass getting cut and it’s like, ‘Oh, yeah. It’s that time.’”
That time is upon us once again.
Let’s play football!