The rise in popularity of football in the state of Indiana is well documented. In 2013, MaxPreps, a division of CBS Sports, ranked the Indianapolis metro area fifth in the country for high school football behind Atlanta, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Dallas.
What isn’t talked about enough is how that happened in a basketball state.
Part of it, is the arrival of the Colts in Indianapolis and the first generation of Indiana kids growing up with a professional football team in their backyard. But, the other part is a grassroots effort on the part of the team, headed by a 13-year NFL veteran, former Colts safety, and captain of the Green Bay Packers’ Super Bowl XXXI championship team.
Mike Prior is now an eleven-year veteran with the Indianapolis Colts in the position of youth football commissioner. He estimates they bring the horseshoe to 20,000 Hoosier kids every year through outreach programs consisting of camps and clinics for students grade K-12. They teach fitness, nutrition, skills, and most important, safety.
“It really is all about safety. And when you teach the parents, you teach the coaches, (they) know how to coach better. And just learning and looking for signs.”
–Mike Prior, Colts Youth Football Commissioner
Along with Prior, former Roncalli High School wide receiver Phil Andrews (now Colts youth football/alumni relations coordinator), spoke to members of the Colts Blue Ladies group on Tuesday night. Knowing safety is a big concern for women, they added a mom’s safety clinic to their program last spring. The idea being, the more well-trained eyes…the better.
“The main mission of Heads Up Football, the two main points are to have better trained coaches that are informed about proper equipment fitting, hydration, concussion awareness, but then also having the parents more informed because the parents are the coaches every day.”
–Phil Andrews, Colts Youth Football/Alumni Relations Coordinator
The Colts also host Friday night football tours at area high schools and hold a statewide college recruiting combine every spring. They also sponsor the IHSAA Football State Tournament, which is held at Lucas Oil Stadium.
And in case you’re wondering if other NFL teams do this, the answer says Andrews, is no. While they don’t really have a way to measure their impact, he says they don’t really need one.
“No matter what, you always have a kid come up and tell you this was the funnest day of their life.”
And that’s how the Hoosier state became a football state.
One kid at a time.
Note: Mike Prior was honored by the National Football Foundation with the Contribution to Amateur Football Award in April. He also serves as an assistant football coach at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis.