INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It was all about the smiles and, hopefully, making a difference.
T.Y. Hilton, accomplished NFL receiver, offered his best Vontae Davis impersonation. He pressed a youngster at an imaginary line of scrimmage in the Lawrence North High School gymnasium – intermittent rain chased Hilton’s ProCamp football clinic indoors Thursday morning – and was “beaten’’ deep.
The youngster cradled a pass, looked back at Hilton and smiled.
Hilton has established himself as the unquestioned leader of the Indianapolis Colts receiver corps and one of the NFL’s elite players. He’s a three-time Pro Bowl selection and last season became the first Colt since Reggie Wayne in 2007 to lead the league in receiving yards.
Yet so often with personal success comes personal responsibility.
“I always want to pay it forward,’’ Hilton said. “I never forget where I came from, especially with these kids. I just want to be a special thing in their life. From them to come out here, for me it just means a lot. They’re willing to learn, want to have fun.
“It’s easy for me to just go out there and have fun and teach them.’’
That included getting torched by someone – the football camp dealt with more than 200 youngsters in grades 1-8 – who undoubtedly views himself as the next T.Y. Hilton.
Remember, the smiles.
“(It’s) the kids, man,’’ Hilton said. “That’s what it’s about, especially nowadays just watching the young kids grow up. They need that special day in their life. I just want to be a part of that special moment.
“The smiles, them running around, hitting me in my back and catching passes in front of me. That’s a special day for them, just catching passes from me and me giving them high-fives.’’
Colts players routinely have been generous with their time, aware they can make a major difference in a short period of time while addressing a captive, receptive audience.
First Edgerrin James, then Reggie Wayne collaborated with Amp Harris for the “Saving Our Youth’’ celebrity basketball event as part of Indiana Black Expo (July 15 at the Indiana Convention Center). There’s Robert Mathis’ celebrity softball event at Victory Field. This summer, Edwin Jackson held camps in Georgia and North Carolina; Jabaal Sheard in Hollywood Hills, Fla., Clayton Geathers in Hemingway, S.C.; and Darius Butler in Fort Lauderdale. Former Colt Marlin Jackson staged his Seal the Deal camp in early June in Indy.
Antonio Morrison is hosting Strikes for Kids July 19 at The Main Event Entertainment Center.
Hilton was exposed to the hands-on experience by pro-level individuals while growing up in Miami. He attended camps held by local standouts and NFL stars Chad Johnson and Brett Perriman.
“They all did it for me so I just give it back and pay it forward,’’ Hilton said, adding he remembers “just meeting them and going out there, playing and having fun with my friends.
“It was a special moment and something that always stuck with me.’’
Soon, Hilton’s offseason will give way to his full-time occupation. The Colts report for training camp July 29.
“We’re coming in with a clean slate: 0-0,’’ he said. “For me, just to make sure my group is in a special way ready to contribute and help me and help this team get back to the playoffs.’’
However, it’s been anything but a routine offseason.
Normally, Hilton and quarterback Andrew Luck have shared serious pitch-and-catch sessions. Luck, though, missed all of the Colts’ offseason work after undergoing surgery in January to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He had yet to resume throwing when the offseason program ended June 15, and there’s been no update from the team on whether that situation has changed.
Hilton admitted previous offseasons have been a special time to work with Luck to sharpen their timing, but also conceded it’s imperative for his QB to fully regain his health.
“I just told him to get healthy. That’s the main thing,’’ Hilton said. “If you’re not healthy, then don’t throw. For him, the main thing is to just get healthy and we’ll pick up where we left off.
“Two days back-to-back is all we need. At the end of the day, once camp starts we should be fine.’’
At least one player took exception with NFL Network’s list of the top 100 players heading into 2017.
That would be T.Y. Hilton. He’s listed at No. 61. Perhaps most distressing to Hilton is that 13 other receivers were afforded better status.
“What did they have me? At 61?’’ Hilton asked. “(That’s) disrespectful, so I feel sorry for every opponent.’’
Hilton and Luck were the only Colts on the list. Luck checked in at No. 51.