INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This is why Ryan Kelly put in those endless days, weeks, months and years of work in the weight room and practice fields.
Friday afternoon, he stood at one end of the Indianapolis Colts’ locker room, pinned in by the media. His cubicle was positioned next to that of quarterback Andrew Luck, the franchise’s irreplaceable part with whom he’ll work so closely with for the foreseeable future.
It was the first day of the Colts’ rookie minicamp, and the long-anticipated next step on Kelly’s career arc.
After signing a four-year, $10.45 million contract earlier in the week as the Colts’ first-round draft pick, he’s Ryan Kelly, professional football player.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet that we’re playing in the National Football League,’’ he said. “Maybe like in a preseason game when I go out there for the first time it’ll be pretty cool.’’
The most exhilarating experience thus far?
“Flying on (owner Jim Irsay’s) private jet was probably the icing on the cake,’’ Kelly said with a smile. “That was all of an 18-minute flight. That might be the first and last time they let me on there.’’
As he spoke, Kelly occasionally wiped perspiration from his brow. He was one of 55 players who went through a two-hour practice under bright skies. The group included eight draft picks, 21 undrafted rookies and 19 players hoping to make an impression on a tryout basis.
Kelly’s position hasn’t changed. The former Alabama All-American center is the Colts’ presumptive starting center.
It’s ludicrous to attempt to draw anything from one practice, especially one teeming with rookies, but coach Chuck Pagano noted Kelly “fit right in.
“We knew this. It’s not too big for him.’’
Again, the difference was Kelly now is playing football for a living. He smiled when asked to describe his previous job.
“Football’s always been my career, my passion,’’ he said. “Growing up in the Midwest you learn hard labor, so it’s either cutting down trees in the backyard at grandpa’s house or (whatever), but (football) is your job.
“You put so many hours and hard sweat into your craft. What you have to boil it down to is how good do I want to be? Everybody who’s here, whether you got drafted or not, you certainly put a lot of hours in to get to where you are.’’
- Pagano: seize the moment
Pagano’s message to the newest batch of Colts-wannabes was the same as it’s been the previous four years: the opportunity is right there for the taking.“(I) talk about the Mike Adams of the world, the Adam Vinatieris of the world,’’ Pagano said. “We’ve got a 43-year-old kicker that’s going to be a future first-ballot Hall of Famer that was undrafted. Mike Adams is going into his 13th season and not a drafted guy.’’Since the arrival of Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson in 2012, 30 rookies have earned a roster spot on opening day: nine last season, eight in ’14, five in ’13 and eight in ’12.
Pagano said he urged the young players to “keep your head down, keep your blinders on. Control what you can control, and that’s your work habits, your effort on the football field, your meeting protocol.
“And don’t look around. Don’t count numbers, don’t compare. Don’t complain. Just be a sponge. Absorb as much as you can, learn as much as you can.’’
- Respect for Vogel
Pagano was quick with praise for Frank Vogel, who wasn’t retained as the Indiana Pacers head coach.“Nothing but respect for Frank,’’ he said. “This city lost a great coach and a better person. There’s better things ahead for Frank Vogel. I think what he did for this city and what he did for that organization speaks to itself.“We’ve got Frank’s back. He’s a first-class individual. A great coach and a great person. The city lost a great man. But he’s going to be fine, I guarantee you.’’