INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle knows all about Warren Central football.
It was here, in a home nearby, where the future pro developed his passion for sports, embraced his hometown team and began to emerge as a potential college player.
So even before taking the field Saturday night at the high school stadium where he could have been lining up for one of the state’s elite powerhouses, Doyle was already eager to get his first glimpse of football life underneath those school lights.
“This is where everyone falls in love with football — on Friday nights when you’re playing for the guy next to you,” Doyle said with a child-like grin. “I grew up three minutes from here so I know all about Warrior nation.”
Doyle never played at Warren, opting for a nearby Catholic school, Indianapolis Cathedral.
Yet Doyle felt right at home at Indy’s second and final open practice of training camp.
And as always the nighttime workouts were jazzed up.
But instead of trying to re-create that high school image at an NCAA Division III site, as they have in the past, team officials actually put this work out on a prep field on the city’s east side just hours after many of the Indy prep teams held their intrasquad scrimmages.
It was definitely different.
Hundreds filled the parking lot and listened to the marching band long before the team buses arrived. Fans lined the path to the field, getting a chance to smack the hands of their NFL favorites. An estimated crowd of 7,000 sat on aluminum bleachers or stood around the crowded fence line where the prevalent aroma of popcorn wafted over the field. And when the bright lights went on, even the pros got excited.
“It’s reminiscent of Friday night lights, even though it’s Saturday,” quarterback Scott Tolzien said. “But it’s a really cool atmosphere.”
Tolzien finished the night with a cool handoff to 10-year-old Michael Dieter, a local boy who has already undergone eight major heart surgeries including a heart transplant less than a year ago. Naturally, when he followed his blockers to cross the goal line, receiver Chester Rogers hoisted the boy into the air as the team gathered round and celebrated.
While Doyle and undrafted rookie Deyhsawn Bond, an offensive lineman who played at Warren, provided the local angles on turn-back-the-clock night, perhaps nobody in the organization has a greater appreciation for prep football than coach Chuck Pagano.
The 56-year-old leukemia survivor watched his dad win two state titles at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, before playing for him. His dad won another after Chuck Pagano graduated. In 2014, Sam Pagano was inducted into the Colorado High School Activities Association’s Hall of Fame.
For him, this was a thrill.
“There’s something still inside all of us that kid inside all of us that likes playing underneath the lights,” the Colts coach said. “There’s nothing better.”
Except maybe actually being that kid.
Some Warren Central players watched from the sideline in their jerseys as their coach joined them.
“It’s huge for our community,” school athletic director Marques Clayton said. “It’s something that’s uplifting and something we’ve all rallied around. To bring the Colts to the city’s east side is a big, big thing.”
Sure, much has changed in this area since former Colts quarterback Jeff George led Warren to back-to-back state titles in the 1980s or even Doyle’s high school days when he served as an Indiana Pacers ball boy.
The grass field is now FieldTurf. The residential area around the school district has expanded, and there’s even a video board in the end zone.
But on this Saturday night, nobody was thinking about contracts or cuts, scholarships or schools or even friends or foes. They were simply getting back to the basics — playing their sport on one of those fields where they learned the game all those years ago.
“I thought it brought an energy to practice that we needed,” Doyle said. “It takes you back to what makes football fun.”
NOTES: Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins left practice after the first play of team action when he was hurt in a pileup. Hankins appeared to hurt his right ankle, though he returned later. … Pagano said receiver Tevaun Smith injured his groin Saturday. … Andrew Luck, who is still on the physically unable to perform list, did some work on the field but still has not returned to practice. … Nearly a dozen other players sat out, too, including starting guards Jack Mewhort and Joe Haeg. Pagano said they were simply getting some extra rest. … Indy waived injured tight end Mo Alie-Cox, a basketball player from VCU, and replaced him on the roster with another rookie tight end, 6-foot-7 Steven Wroblewski.