Heading into the Colts 2023 season opener, I asked around the locker room a simple question: why do you love football?
The responses I got showed that while every athlete had their own motivations, a common theme was how football helped them grow as men.
I also asked other questions to get a better sense of the players who will be taking the field this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Here are their responses:
Why do you love football?
Guard Will Fries: I love football because of the bonds that you create with your teammates and the guys in the locker room, especially being on the o-line when we have to play as five guys together. You guys have to be really tight to be a good unit. So, doing stuff with those guys off the field and getting to know each other more, getting to hang out and busting chops – it's a lot of fun.
Defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis: The camaraderie of just being in the locker room. To be honest, it adds structure to my life. I've learned a lot through football like just how to structure and plan my day. It's good because when it's time to transition I can apply that same focus into my professional life.
Cornerback Kenny Moore II: Football and sports, in general, were a safe haven for me starting out as a kid. It grew into a passion and actually made me closer to my family. The support they gave me, the love they gave me – I think it's bigger than me at the end of the day as to why I love football.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson: Because of what it's given me. I still have socks, shirts and hoodies that I've gotten from football camps a long time ago that I still wear. It's the fact that football has given me a lot. When I couldn't buy any clothes, my mom couldn't get me any clothes, football gave me clothes. When I couldn't eat, I was eating at practice. We had a snack room in high school. I used to be in the snack room eating snacks because I didn't have any food at home. All the things that football has given me, I appreciate this game and I'm thankful for it. Just the connections I've made through it, just everything that it's given me, that's why I love this game and appreciate it. I feel like it's about having fun on the field, but I think I feel the game differently from other people because of how much it's given me and what it's given me.
When did it sink in for you that you could make it to the NFL?
Cornerback Darrell Baker Jr.: I feel like I always knew it from the start. Just the mindset that I had, being better than everybody and just winning a lot. That's just always been my goal.
Wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.: I mean, I always believed from a young age – like I never really thought about it that way but from a young age my dad told me that I can do it, I can make it and I just believed it. One thing led to another, I got into high school, then I got into college and the next thing I know, I've gotten into the pros. It's not something that I thought about all the time I wasn't out there during my Pop Warner game like, 'Oh I gotta be a pro.' I was having fun with it.
Tight end Drew Ogletree: It kind of clicked when I first got here. When I first got here last year, it was kind of like, 'Man, all these guys went to Ohio State, Virginia and all these big schools.' And I'm coming in from a Division II and an FCS school, so it kind of gave me a little butterflies. But once I stepped on the field, I was like, 'Okay, this is the same game, it's the same 100 yards, same 53 [yards] going from sideline to sideline. So, I can play on this.'
Linebacker E.J. Speed: I was always told growing up, but it really clicked for me when I found my work ethic in college. I found my relentless work ethic in college, and I just noticed me starting to veer away from my peers from an athletic standpoint and from a mental standpoint. I just seen it, ran with it and eventually it became clear that I was better.
What is the biggest lesson you've learned from playing football?
Fries: I think just how to be mentally and physically tough, you know? Life can throw a lot of challenges at you and teach you a lot of adversity. You meet a lot of people along the way who teach you this or that, but the toughness to help you get through things is probably the biggest lesson you learn from it.
Moore II: Overall growth as a man, being able to manage my time and self-care. I think just being able to balance out life in general, with the game of football. Obviously, being a professional, this is my craft. This is my daily duty to do, so I think it's been everything that I am.
Pittman Jr.: Since playing football, I would probably say the biggest lesson is you can never disservice yourself by going 100 percent because if it doesn't happen, you can just say, 'Hey, I did everything that I possibly could, and it didn't work out and I think I can live with that.' So, that's always my goal, just give my 110 percent and then if it works out the way it should, that's great. And if it doesn't, I could look back and say, 'Hey, I did everything that I could.'
Ogletree: How to work with one another. Especially because in this game of football you can't have just one guy be the star. So, you got to have everybody. Everybody has to play their role, because like I said, one player can't win the game, it's not like basketball. You can't just have one guy taking all the shots.
We hear so much about the money and endorsements that playing football brings, but what else would you say playing football has brought to your life?
Baker Jr.: I would say peace. That's the biggest thing I can really say. Of course, the money brings peace but just being around these guys in the locker room day in and day out brings peace. We're having fun, sharing stories and all of that.
Lewis: Opportunity. It's given me the opportunity to do almost anything I desire. Whatever it is in my life that I want to do afterward or things I haven't seen, it allows me to do that. And I'm just grateful to be able to do that. You put your body through a lot of stuff, so you don't want to just let football use you all the time. You want to use football to not just lift your platform but to also help maneuver through life. You meet people, you run into people who are like you, so it goes hand in hand.
Pittman Jr.: I feel like it's brought freedom for me and my wife and my kids to pretty much be able to kind of move freely and go back and forth from here and go home, which is California for us. It's really connected us to our family because even though we're far away, we can get up and go whenever we got some free time. Just that luxury of being able to move around and it not be a huge burden on us. Then, you meet a lot of great people being around here. I've met a lot of great people in Indy who have helped me out and some people that have nothing to do with football. Like, I met them somehow and then one thing led to another and now I got some really great friends out here, So, probably those two things.
Speed: Like I said, life lessons. Football teaches me everything just through the relationships I get through the game of football from coaches to players, to teammates – just the relationships that I gain. This game brings you so many personalities. You probably meet over like 50 people a year. So, you get to connect with people, some good some bad, some even-keeled, but it's just always a blessing to be around.
What is it like coming out of the tunnel on game day and playing in front of Colts fans?
Fries: There's literally nothing better. Whether it's Lucas Oil or wherever, you kind of get to put on a show with all the hard work that you have put in your entire life for everyone to see. It wasn't just one moment, one training camp, one workout that led up to this. It was a cultivation of everything you've done in your entire life.
Lewis: It's an amazing feeling. I've been here six years and I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world but in Indianapolis. This is a great place, great people. They embrace you with love. I feel like it's a hard-working city. So, there's no other place to play.
Moore II: Oh man, I think that's where all the work comes into play. All the work that we put into the offseason, all the mistakes that we made in the past - we cleaned up all those in the offseason, the spring, at training camp. I think honestly, just being out there with the guys, I think that's where it all comes together.
Richardson: I went through that routine the last time we were in there playing the Bears. Just been in that routine, so when the moment does come when we play Jacksonville, it will feel normal and natural. But I'll definitely be excited playing a team that's from Florida. Being from Florida and even playing in my first official NFL game I think it's definitely gonna be exciting.
When your playing career is all said and done, what do you want your legacy to be?
Baker Jr.: [That I was] an unselfish person, work hard day in and day out and somebody that can always be trusted. You can always count on me.
Pittman Jr.: I want my legacy to be, 'He was a great teammate, he did everything right and he made big plays.' I think if they can say all of that, then I think that I'll look up and be able to say that I had a pretty great time playing and a pretty good career.
Ogletree: I just want everyone to know that this guy gave it all. There wasn't a day he took off, there wasn't a rep he took off, he's truly a hard worker and one who gives back to his community. I want to be able to go back to my community and do great things.
Speed: Whatever it is, whatever I left to the game. I would love for it to be in the light and if not, I'm cool with it. I know what I brought to the game personally and I gave it my all. So, that's just my legacy within myself, just knowing that I gave it my all.