The first time Jack Doyle found out about T.Y. Hilton was probably 12 years ago, when Doyle heard a mantra from his coaches at Western Kentucky as they prepared to face Florida International.
"I remember coaches saying we had to stop No. 4, stop No. 4," Doyle said.
Doyle and Hilton have been through a lot since their teams annually squared off in Sun Belt Conference play. Hilton arrived in Indianapolis as a third-round pick in 2012 and quickly became one of Andrew Luck's favorite targets, earning four consecutive trips to the Pro Bowl between 2014-2017. Doyle battled his way on to the Colts' roster after being released by the Tennessee Titans and established himself as a more-than-reliable run blocker and pass catcher, earning Pro Bowl nods in 2017 and 2019.
Now, after their ninth season together came to a conclusion, the two longest-tenured Colts players have decisions to make about their football futures. And consulting with one another will be an important part of how Doyle and Hilton evaluate what's next.
"That's something, take some time, talk to Jack and just go through it," Hilton said. "If I want to play one more year, I could play one more year. If not, then I won't. So just talk to him, see what he's feeling, and once he makes his decision I'll know what I want to do kind of based on him, whether it's here, whether it's somewhere else. I'll make my decision some time in the offseason."
While the impact Doyle (29 catches, 302 yards, 3 TDs) and Hilton (23 catches, 331 yards, 3 TDs) made on the 2021 Colts may have seemed limited based on their stats alone, both players had critically important roles on the team. Doyle finished 2021 as the fourth highest-rated run blocking tight end in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus; Hilton's leadership and knack for knowing when and how to speak to his teammates was an undercurrent to the Colts' success.
"Their leadership and honestly the genuine teammates and good guys they are," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said when asked what he appreciates about both players. "I mean, they're both hell of players – T.Y. and Jack in both the passing game and the running game. In blocking Jack is phenomenal. Just my short time here, being their teammates – honestly, two of the best teammates I've ever had. Just watching their leadership from just being here the past two years, the impact that they have when they do speak has been amazing. Just being able to learn from them has been awesome.
"Selfishly, I really hope they don't retire."
The Colts' season came crashing down with consecutive losses to the Raiders and Jaguars, jettisoning the team from being AFC contenders to out of the playoff picture. But both Doyle and Hilton said they'd take some time to step away from things and not let those disappointing defeats impact their decisions to play another year or not.
"I pretty much know what I want to do but I just want to take some time to reflect," Hilton said.
"Don't let the emotion of yesterday kind of influence what my future holds," Doyle said.
Hilton turned 32 last November while Doyle turns 32 in May. The number of games each has played – all for the Colts – stretches well into the 100s (Doyle: 143; Hilton: 131). And both will now figure out if they want to add to those totals or bring to an end what've been wildly successful careers here in Indianapolis.
"I've just been banged up," Doyle said. "It's been tough – tough on my body, tough on me just in general. It's tough to play football and it's tough to get out there every week. It's kind of taken a toll. Like I said, I'll take some time to think about it and obviously talk to people close to me and we'll go from there."