INDIANAPOLIS – T.Y. Hilton was a wildly successful four-year performer at Florida International University.
Hilton set numerous school and Sun Belt Conference records with his all-purpose exploits that saw him snare 229 passes for 3,531 yards and 24 touchdowns, return four kickoffs for scores and hold a 27.2 average on 105 efforts, return two punts for touchdowns and hold a 12.5-yard average, rush for seven scores and even pass for one.
Hilton is a native of the Miami area, a product of Miami Springs High School. He was recruited by a few schools, notably West Virginia and Mississippi, but his chief decision-maker cast the lot for Florida International University.
Hilton's young son, Eugene, picked the FIU hat when it, among others, was placed in front of him. Evidently, he grabbed it on multiple occasions so after Eugene stated his preference, FIU had an explosive talent in Hilton.
"My son chose the FUI hat, so I started there," said Hilton. "It got me here."
One can argue that Hilton was a driving force in getting FIU competitive on the field. The school started playing in 2002 and remained on the FCS level until gaining FBS status for the 2005 season. Five wins from that season were vacated, and the school went on to post 0-12 and 1-11 records in the subsequent two seasons as it joined the Sun Belt Conference.
From 2008-11, a period matching Hilton's tenure, the school earned a record of 23-27, but it was 15-11 over the final two seasons in earning consecutive bowl appearances.
Though Hilton's performances came in a conference away from the brightest spotlights, they were enough to grab the attention of Colts General Manager Ryan Grigson, who orchestrated a trade that moved Indianapolis into the third round to grab the speedster.
Grigson set his sights on Hilton the way Hilton often set sail for the end zone.
"When you get a great player like that, that is electric like that, it is fun," said Grigson. "Sometimes you've got to go up and grab those guys. He is a little bit undersized and the history is that those types of guys with his size, they may be there in (round) four, but it's not a certainty. … He really can fit us in the slot with a lot of things Bruce (Arians) does. We've had this guy targeted for a long time."
Hilton was one of about 40 players who worked last weekend in the Colts' rookie camp. The fun of the game soon trumped feelings of anxiety he may have felt in his first NFL practice.
"(I was) a little nervous but when I first got to meet Andrew Luck, he settled me down and we had a little talk," said Hilton. "He asked me if I was ready and I asked him if he was ready, and we kind of laughed and said, 'Let's go get them.'
"(I was) nervous, but once you get out there you get settled. … After Andrew Luck threw me that first pass on that bomb it just kind of settled me down and I started getting ready. It's just football, just have fun."
Fun is what the Colts hope to have in their return game. An explosive presence is something the club has lacked for the past few seasons. A keen observer is Owner and CEO Jim Irsay, who likes the addition of Hilton.
"T.Y. Hilton, I guess since Clarence Verdin (we haven't had that explosion with a returner)," said Irsay. "We think he's electrifying. We think offensively he can contribute there."
Hilton is excited to be in the early stages of his new career, and he hopes to introduce himself by putting a best foot forward. One means of introducing himself was to explain the nature of his nickname (T.Y.) since his given name is Eugene.
"It (T.Y.) is a name that I grew up with," said Hilton. "My dad's name is Tyrone, so they took the 'rone' off and just called me, 'Little T.Y.' "
Hilton does not have little dreams regarding his future. His goals are to continue what he did collegiately when he led his team in receptions for four straight years and set conference career marks in reception yards and touchdown receptions.
A third-team 2011 All-America choice as an all-purpose performer, Hilton says he is an example that players can come from any region or level of play.
"I'm living a dream right now," said Hilton. "Being here with the Colts, I feel great. I'm ready to get after it. My (college) coaches are excited for me. My coaches (there) are great guys, and they prepared me well. … I am proof (that players can come from anywhere). If you stick with your dream, you can make it."
Hilton worked through a minor injury during the club's rookie camp, but Head Coach Chuck Pagano knows the ability he saw before then will be evident as spring workouts continue in the coming weeks.
"He's a little bit banged up. I know he can run," said Pagano. "He's explosive. He has a quad injury that he's dealing with right now. We saw (his explosion) on tape. The first play I saw against Louisville, he went 60 or 70 yards on a quick slant and ran away from everybody. It looked like everybody was standing still. He's battling a little bit of an injury. We know it's there."