GREENFIELD — Before he ever threw for 72,000 yards or won five NFL Most Valuable Player awards, Peyton Manning was just like New Palestine’s Alex Neligh and Eastern Hancock’s Jarett Lewis.
Before the two-time Super Bowl champion threw 539 career touchdowns or won 200 NFL games, Manning was just another kid at Isidore Newman High School — a young athlete with a dream.
But with his unrivaled work ethic and pinpoint throwing accuracy, Manning made his way to the top of the football world. On Monday, however, after 18 NFL seasons, Manning announced he would officially retire.
Story continues below gallery
And although No. 18 will never take another snap under center — for real anyway — his legacy will have a lasting effect on the game itself. In fact, in many cases, including the high school level in Indiana, it already has.
Greenfield-Central head football coach Adam Sherman, who grew up in Indianapolis, remembers the year the Colts arrived in town from Baltimore. He also remembers the day Manning was drafted.
Before then, football in Indiana played second fiddle to the always popular sport of basketball.
“We basically had free season tickets,” Sherman. “No one cared (about football). They (Colts) were pretty bad. Then (Manning) came and became not only the poster child for Indianapolis, but for football as a whole.
“It was a Colts frenzy, and everyone wanted to be a part of it.”
Part of that excitement trickled down to the high school level. Since 1998, the year Manning arrived with the Colts, 11 quarterbacks have been selected as Indiana’s Mr. Football. And since that same season, football has seen rapid growth in central Indiana.
“You look at how things are with New Palestine and Warren Central, that’s a direct result of interest in football because of the Colts,” Sherman said. “Pound for pound and city for city, Indianapolis is just as good as any other place in the country.”
The Warriors were the first in Indiana history with four consecutive state football championships, which it won in Class 5A between 2003 and 2006. That success helped pave the future for one of the most prominent leagues in the state, the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference, which features the likes of Ben Davis, Carmel and Center Grove to name a few.
For University of Indianapolis commit Alex Neligh, who led New Palestine to back-to-back state title appearances the last two seasons, Manning has been a terrific role model in every possible way.
“Whether he was blowing an opponent out or whether the game was down to the last seconds of the fourth quarter, he always kept the same level head and same mentality the whole time,” Neligh said. “I perceived that to be the way that everyone should play, because it shows respect for both the opponent and the game itself.”
Added Lewis, a sophomore quarterback for the Royals: “I think he was probably the smartest quarterback to ever play the game, because he prepared for each game well with watching film. He makes his teammates better by how he prepares and his character.”
Eastern Hancock coach Jim O’Hara, who won a state title at Cathedral in 2006, has spent plenty of time around Indianapolis and its surrounding area during Manning’s time in the state. He said what made Manning unique was his great attention to detail.
“I wish our kids did more of that (watch film), and we’re only asking for a few hours per week,” O’Hara said. “He did change how people look at recruits with regards to how people are going to spend time in the film room.
“Tremendous work ethic, that’s the thing. He was very passionate about the game.”
That tireless work ethic is why Manning is now able to retire on top. And although he wasn’t blessed with the strongest arm or fastest legs, Manning’s desire to improve and persevere is second to none, which is why a nagging foot injury couldn’t stop the 39-year-old from finishing one of the most memorable seasons of his career.
“You have to be dedicated and steady during the week,” Mt. Vernon head coach Doug Armstrong said. “ You have to know your opponents. He (Manning) proved that the extra time put in is what made him as good as he is.”
Peyton Manning’s Career Numbers
NFL career passing touchdown record: 539
Most passing yards, career: 71,940
Single season touchdown record (2013): 55
Most passing yards, season (2013): 5,477
Most wins (including playoffs): 200
Most passing touchdowns in a single game (tied, 2013): 7
Most seasons with 350+ completions: 10
Most game-winning drives: 56
Most comeback wins: 45
Highest yards-per-game, season (2013): 342.31
One of two quarterbacks to ever beat all 32 teams (along with Brett Favre)
First quarterback to beat 31 franchises: 2007
Most Associated Press NFL MVP awards: 5 (2003, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2013)