ANDERSON, IN --- The Colts know how valuable Eugene Marquis Hilton is. T.Y. has proven it everyday since his infant son Eugene chose the FIU hat over the West Virginia hat eight times in a row to keep his father in Miami, Florida for college.
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano has known it from the first time he watched Hilton light up Louisville on the road as a senior. 1st catch that night? 74-yard touchdown. 2nd catch? 83-yard touchdown. I remember covering that game in person, asking myself, "Who the heck is this T.Y. Hilton guy?" I was late to the party. Hilton had been doing it since taking his first collegiate punt return 74 yards to the house at Kansas.
We all know who T.Y. Hilton is now. The 5'9", 178 pound "game wrecker", as Pagano likes to say, is one of the best receivers in the NFL. His contract extension keeps him in a Colts uniform for the foreseeable future. Not bad for a two-star recruit out of high school.
The first call was to his wife and kids. Mrs. Hilton was overcome with emotion. Hilton said it's been a hard week for his wife and him, for personal reasons he chose to keep private, after missing one practice during training camp. Tears of joy now, as little Eugene has traded in the FIU hat for a Colts one.
"I love being here. This is a dream come true," Hilton said, shortly after signing his contract. "I didn't want to go into the season with it on my mind. I'm ready to play now, just give it my all. I'm going to continue to give it my all."
"If the team that you're with doesn't do it, then somebody else will," said fellow wide receiver Andre Johnson, who has experienced his share of big contracts. "Very deserving, very happy for him...When you're going through a situation like that, you want to get it over with as soon as possible, so you can just focus on football."
"He's going to be the same goofy, funny guy," said second-year receiver Donte Moncrief, when asked if Hilton was paying for dinner now. Moncrief admitted though Hilton has certainly taken on more of a leadership role. "Starting in the offseason, I've just been more close to him, watching the way he's working, how he comes in early and stays late to watch film."
No Colts receiver has more receptions (214), receiving yards (3,289), or 100-yard games (16) through his first three seasons than Hilton, and he's second in receiving touchdowns.
That production was why the Colts didn't want to see their top receiver hit free agency next year, when the salary cap could increase to more than $150 million. For Hilton, it would have been a big risk playing for less than $2 million in a contract season. It was clear both sides were motivated to get this done, going back to Owner and CEO Jim Irsay voicing his wishes to get an extension signed by Labor Day.
"It takes two. They showed interest in me, and I also wanted to be here," said Hilton. "There's no place I'd rather be than here. This organization is great, and I love being here."
Hilton is one of the four players on the side of Lucas Oil Stadium, a change that happened earlier this offseason. Chuck Pagano asked Hilton if he ever dreamed something like that would be possible. Hilton said absolutely. He's humble but privately never wavers in the confidence he has in his abilities.
"I get pictures from it everyday (on social media). People pass by the stadium, and they see me," Hilton said. "That means a lot."
The possibilities for Hilton in Indianapolis are Hall of Fame level. That's not hyperbole for a Colts receiver that gets to play with quarterback Andrew Luck. One must only think back a few short years to the Manning-Harrison/Wayne combination for evidence of that.
"We can be very, very special. Our chemistry just continues to grow, continues to get better" said Hilton of his rapport with Luck. "Right now, we're looking real good. We're a force to be reckoned with."
The Ghost will continue to haunt defenses from Indianapolis for years to come.