It doesn’t seem that long ago that he was busy running around the football field and basketball court at Miami Springs Senior High School dazzling everyone who watched him, including this guy, with his incredible and uncanny athletic ability as a two-sport star in both football and basketball.
But here the two of us were a few Saturdays ago, standing around on the practice field at the high school, and there was T.Y. Hilton, standing on that field for the very first time since he graduated nearly seven years ago. He was looking around in a kind of wonder state, perhaps reliving his high school days while visiting and getting reacquainted with old coaches and old friends.
Hilton came out to help out another ex-Hawk, Devin Aromashodu, who was hosting his fourth annual Football Camp for 7-to-15-year-old kids who looked on in awe when Hilton showed up.
And there is a lot to look back on because so much has happened since. Oh, how so much has happened.
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Forget becoming an instant star as a freshman in college at FIU, Hilton now finds himself very close to the elite level in the National Football League playing for the Indianapolis Colts. And, oh by the way, he became a husband and father to three children along the way.
Hilton barely had his freshman shoes on at FIU when he made an immediate impact in helping head coach Mario Cristobal put that program on the football map.
Four years later, in April of 2012, the Colts actually traded up from the fourth round to get the final pick in the third round to make sure they grabbed Hilton. It was, as it turned out, an extremely wise move.
All Hilton has done in his relatively short NFL career is basically tear up the league. After making the All-Rookie team in 2012 with 50 receptions, he turned in even bigger numbers in 2013 (82 catches for 1,083 yards) before really exploding last season, catching 82 passes again but this time for 1,345 yards to lead the Colts all the way to the AFC Championship Game before they fell to New England.
For his efforts, Hilton found himself getting selected to represent the Colts in the Pro Bowl in Arizona and wound up catching a touchdown pass in the first quarter from, who else, his own quarterback, Andrew Luck.
“This definitely brings back memories being out here today,” said Hilton, who took a few minutes of his busy time to chat with a Gazette sports editor who covered virtually every football game he played at Springs. “All the fun I had with all my homeboys, my teammates, my coaches, it’s pretty cool. Especially being able to help Devin out at the same time and spend some time with the kids because that’s what it’s all about.”
Some wondered if Hilton, as sometimes athletes can do when they reach “big-time” status, might “go Hollywood” and not bother with all of the folks from his past.
But anyone who knew him and knew his father and mother, Tyrone Sr. and Cora, knew that he came from a strong family of faith and core values, which he has never lost along the way to stardom.
“I pretty much have appreciated every day, how fortunate I am and how fortunate I’ve been,” Hilton said. “I just want to continue to do the little things and continue to get better.”
But just how grounded Hilton still is came into clear focus Nov. 23 of last year.
That’s when he was late arriving for his team’s home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars that day but for a very good reason.
He had spent the night in the hospital with his wife Shantrell as they welcomed a brand new baby daughter into the world. When Luck wound up hooking up with him for a game-clinching touchdown in the second half, Hilton, after reaching the end zone, looked up to the sky, pointed and then cradled the football and rocked it like a newborn child.
When interviewed after the game, he broke down in a tearful moment talking of the thrill of his first daughter being born. The interview went viral around the country as Hilton captured the hearts of America that day and it had less to do about football or catching winning touchdown passes and more to do with a man’s life priorities.
“That day I was trying to stop crying on TV, but the emotions just kept pouring out of me,” Hilton said. “Through that whole day with my daughter, my first girl being born, I just love her like my everything and wanted everybody to know it.”
So what’s next on the horizon for T.Y. Hilton?
For one thing, he is entering the final year of a rookie contract that would pay him just under $800,000, including incentives, but he confirmed that his agent Drew Rosenhaus and the Colts are in active talks in an effort to get a new deal inked possibly before next season starts.
But Hilton prefers to low-key all the money stuff. After all, here’s a young man who showed no shame in crying in front of a television audience.
I just want to continue to try and have fun,” Hilton said. “I don’t like going into the season with individual goals. Whatever my team needs me to do I try and do for my team. From that standpoint, we’ve made steps each of the last three seasons making it further in the playoffs, so I guess the next step would be the Super Bowl. That would really cap things off for me. I’m happy with all the things we’ve done in the offseason (the Colts signed former 49ers running back Frank Gore and Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson to add to an already potent offense) as we’ve added some more pieces and I think the Super Bowl is right for us.”