Colts Rookies Experience First Real Day on the Job
INDIANAPOLIS – The hand stuck out. Suddenly, to Mike Hart, the NFL was no longer a distant dream.
The hand belonged to Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
"I said, 'I'm Mike,''' Hart said.
Manning's reply: "I'm Peyton."
"I was like, 'I know who you are,''' Hart said, recalling the story with a smile.
And because the hand was a real hand – because it wasn't on television and because it wasn't animated – Hart said it took a moment to realize the reality of the moment.
"I grew up watching Peyton," said Hart, a running back from the University of Michigan and a sixth-round selection in this past weekend's 2008 NFL Draft.
"When I saw Peyton, I was like, 'I'm not playing with him on a video game. I just shook his hand.' "It's nice. I'm definitely a little in awe."
Such was the mood around the Colts' practice facility on Friday.
The Colts, as has been the case in each of the past two off-seasons, brought their rookie draft selections and undrafted free agents to town for a three-day rookie camp the weekend following the NFL Draft. All nine of the Colts' selections from this past weekend are in town, as are the 13 players Indianapolis signed shortly after the draft.
The idea, Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said, is to give the rookies a time to get acclimated, and a time to learn and prepare without the presence of the Colts' veterans, many of whom are some of the NFL's most well-known players.
Still, as the rookies arrived in the last two days, many of the veterans were at the facility, and their presence helped the rookies realize they were really in the NFL.
"The guys are around here in the off-season," said rookie linebacker Philip Wheeler, a third-round selection from Georgia Tech. "I can tell they were working hard, so it's not going to be easy. I just want to come here, stay focused, make the team and get some playing time, hopefully."
Wheeler, the second player selected by the Colts this past weekend, said he realized fully that he was in the NFL not on the practice field Friday afternoon, but a little earlier.
"It really hit me when I tried on my helmet for the first time," he said. "That was when it hit me. I kind of settled down and had my first practice. I was a little nervous at first, but it was fun. It really hit me, 'I'm in the NFL now. I play for the Colts.'
"I just what to take every opunity I have."
Marcus Howard, a defensive end from the University of Georgia, also said trying on the white helmet with the blue horseshoe was a big moment for him.
"When I put the helmet on and I ran out on the field I was like, 'Oh, man – this is the same field guys like Peyton Manning and (defensive end) Robert Mathis play on,' '' Howard said. "I saw other guys around with their helmets on. I was just in awe.
"This is my dream, to play in the NFL, but I know when it's time to play football, I'm ready to play football."
The Colts made Mike Pollak their first selection this past weekend when they took him late in the second round. Six days later, he went through his first NFL practice at a new position, having switched from center – the position he played the past two seasons at Arizona State – to guard, where he is expected to compete for a starting position.
"It was a little rough, going from center to putting my hand on the ground and playing guard," Pollak said. "There's a lot of technique stuff that I still need to iron out. That just comes with each day in practice. Having to move, that's another thing on top of it.
"It's a lot of stuff going into your brain at one time. It has been stressful leading up to this point, but now that I know what to expect from the coaches and what the coaches expect from me, it makes it a little easier."
Pollak said he met Manning Friday, and met several members of the offensive line – including center Jeff Saturday and offensive tackle Ryan Diem – the day before.
"Al of those guys are big-time guys and really good in the league, but they really treated me well with a lot of respect even though I'm just a rookie. I've been here for two days now. Yesterday, was I like, 'No it's still not real yet.' Even today, it seemed like I'm just here for a short time. I think it's going to really sink in when I get around the other guys on the team, the veterans.
"When I start mingling with those guys and learning from those guys, that's when it's really going to sink in for me."
Said Hart, "Any time you get a chance to be on a team that can be in the Super Bowl every year, it's a great opportunity. I'm just coming out here, trying to compete and make the team. It's weird to put on different colors, a different helmet, but it's great.
"It's a new opportunity for me and I'm looking forward to the challenge."