INDIANAPOLIS –When asked Wednesday if he remembers his first spring work as a rookie in 2003, Robert Mathis recalled it was probably the toughest one he ever had.
Starting his 12th season, the Colts' career sack leader (111.0) and NFL's 2013 sack champion (19.5) has one message.
"That was last year, now is this year. Onto the new (challenge)," said Mathis. "Let's get ready to rumble."
COLTS SEASONAL SACK LEADERS
Since 2003, Mathis has matured from new kid to the team's second-longest tenured veteran. He rumbled past Dwight Freeney (107.5) last year to set the franchise sack record.
Mathis came back to prepare for this year and found a suit of armor at his locker courtesy of second-year teammates Bjoern Werner and Daniel Adongo.
Phase one of the voluntary offseason program.
"It's a gift from my little brothers. (It's) kind of the (King) Leonidas leadership type deal," said Mathis. "It's a good present, it means a lot to me.
"It caught me off guard. I've never seen one in real life, a real one. That's the real deal. I was humbled by it. I have to grow into it a little. The helmet's kind of big. I guess I have a big head."
Mathis spoke last year of his only goal being to play in New Jersey in Super Bowl XLVIII. He has recalibrated his message to point toward Arizona for Super Bowl XLIX.
"Win the Super Bowl," Mathis said succinctly when asked his motivation. "It's (the message), 'Go to the finish.' That's February. There's only one team goal, one mission, and that's to get to Arizona."
Such talk by Mathis is from the heart, a message from a man who does not waste words or take a soapbox.
Mentored through the years and seeing teammates like Antoine Bethea ("Extremely tough to lose. He's a guy that clocks in every day, never misses a game (or) practice. You can't replace him, but somebody has to step up.") depart, Mathis passes instruction along to his two gift-givers.
"They're humble guys. They're empty vessels. They just came wanting to learn the game," said Mathis of Werner and Adongo. "It's a big brother, little brother type deal.
"They know the game. They can play a lot faster now. Last year was just trying to learn, find their way. They know what they're doing."
If a player ever came from steeper odds than Mathis, it could be Adongo, who came to America last August and reported directly to Colts training camp to audition for a sport he never had played.
Compared to Mathis' background from Alabama A&M, Adongo's was much tougher, and Mathis wears the mentor armor well.
"I enjoy it a lot. He reminds me of myself a lot my first year, just eager to learn, ready and willing to work and just wanting to get after it," said Mathis. "He looks like a buck, a big buck. He's definitely ready. He mentally has it.
"We know what he can do. He has maximum work ethic, and he's going to be a big surprise in the league, I feel."
Mathis has five career double-digit sack seasons. He has sacked 55 different players and has taken down quarterbacks from every franchise.
NFL CAREER SACK LEADERS
His rookie season was the first of a five-year run of division crowns that also yielded a world title. Mathis returned to the Super Bowl stage in 2009, but is only one of seven current Colts who date back to 2011 (a league-low number compared to 31 teams).
Coming off back-to-back 11-win seasons and reaching the divisional round last year, Mathis senses the team is taking the next step, but he keeps an eye on the clock.
"We need to speed it up a little bit. I'm kind of running out of time around here," said Mathis. "I feel that we have the pieces in place, we just have to apply it.
"I feel good about the guys that we have here and about where we're going."