NO JOKING MATTER

Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said he will strive again next season to improve his statistical totals, something he has done in all seven of his NFL seasons. Recently at the Pro Bowl, he said he was serious when he said that will mean waking up a half-hour earlier this off-season.

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Lofty Goals Mean Working Harder Each Off-Season, Wayne Says

KAPOLEI, Hawaii – Reggie Wayne couldn't have been more serious.

Late this past season, Wayne – the Colts' two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver – was asked how he thought it was possible to achieve his goal next season, his goal being to annually improve statistically from one season to the next.

Wayne this past season caught 104 passes. He had 1,510 yards receiving.

He caught 10 touchdowns.

He did so playing all but five games without wide receiver Marvin Harrison, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. So when Wayne was asked about improving next season, he said because he started his workouts at 5:30 a.m. last off-season, he would begin them this off-season to 5 a.m.

He was smiling when he said it. The gathered media laughed.

Only one thing:

Wayne wasn't kidding.

"That's real," Wayne said recently during the week leading to the Pro Bowl, which was played February 10 at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

"I put that much into it. My workouts were already at 5:30. I have to get in there at 5 now."

Such work ethic has been Wayne's approach during seven NFL seasons, he and those who know him say.

And such will be what keeps him going now, he said.

Wayne, the Colts' first-round selection in 2001 NFL Draft from the University of Miami, has developed steadily during his NFL career, improving his receptions total in each of his first seven NFL seasons. That's no coincidence, those who know him well say.

Wayne, in addition to being a talented player, is a motivated one, and has been throughout his career.

"He didn't want to be good – he wanted to be great," Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who works out each off-season with Wayne in Miami, said at the Pro Bowl. "That's what sets guys apart in this league. That's the difference you have to ask yourself.

"You watched him at the University of Miami: it was kind of hard not to notice him. He has the same blood, same drive – everything."

Thus far, that drive has allowed him to develop from a first-round selection with 27 receptions for 345 yards and no touchdowns in his first year into one of the most respected players at his position leaguewide.

Wayne, who has had more than 1,000 yards receiving each of the past four seasons, was selected to his second consecutive Pro Bowl this past season. And this season, he was named to the game for the first time as a starter.

"He's definitely explosive and has good speed," New England Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel said. "He's a good fit for that offense. They jell together well, him and (quarterback) Peyton (Manning) and Marvin. He runs crisp routes and knows how to get open.

"He does everything good. He has great hands. That one-handed catch he had against the Oakland Raiders (in December) – spectacular. He's an excellent receiver with good speed and he's very talented."

Antonio Cromartie, a Pro Bowl cornerback for the San Diego Chargers, faced Wayne twice this past season.

"He has a combination of things," Cromartie said. "Once you have a quarterback like Peyton Manning, it makes your job a whole lot easier. You've got precise throwing and precise routes. Peyton knows where you're going to be and you know where the ball's going to be, plus he has great quicks.

"One of the plays he made against us in the playoff game – he caught a little pass, faked inside and got back outside. Just having skills like that as a receiver helps you out a lot.

"It separates you from being good to being great."

Wayne has been pursuing that separation for seven seasons, and each season, he has measured his progress in simple fashion. Each season, he has set a goal to catch at least one more pass than he did the previous season. So far, he has attained that goal.

After catching 27 in his rookie season, he caught 49 for 716 yards and four touchdowns in 2002. He followed that with 68 receptions for 838 yards and seven touchdowns in 2003 before recording his first 1,000-yard season in 2004, when he caught 77 passes for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In 2005, he caught 83 passes for 1,055 yards and five touchdowns, then set career-highs in receptions and yards in 2006 with 86 receptions for 1,310 yards and nine touchdowns.

This past season, he not only reached his goal, he blew past it.

After improving by nine, six and three receptions each of the past three seasons, he surpassed his previous career-high by 18 receptions in 2007, reaching a number he said without question will make next season's task difficult.

"That's still the number," he said. "It's going to be tough, of course. I thought trying to get 87 was tough. The season that just passed kind of fell into my lap. We had some injuries and (Colts quarterback) Peyton (Manning) started looking at me more.

"Hopefully, it's not like that next year, but still, all in all, I had some catches I felt like I could have got last year I didn't get. I just have to look at it like I've been looking at.

"It's a goal. I have to do what it takes to get it."

Wayne said his focus in the off-season is about more than numbers, and this off-season, he said at least part of his focus will be on improving as a runner.

"One thing for this year that I've already told myself is if I'm going to get anywhere close to 1,500 yards my yards after catch has got to get better," Wayne said. "That's one thing I have to focus on – that and obviously, I have to get 105 catches some kind of way.

"I try to focus on everything. It's not one particular thing."

And with that in mind, Wayne said he'll soon begin his off-season workout program. To maintain improvement when he already has reached an elite level, he said he knows he must put forth extra somehow.

Which is why the alarm will go off a half hour early this off-season. No kidding.

"It's not hard," he said. "I know it's the task at hand that needs to be done. Once that first week's over with, it's like clockwork. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm going to enjoy this right now, take a little time off and go at it full speed."

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