INDIANAPOLIS — Andrew Luck has always tried to deflect the spotlight.
As a highly recruited high school quarterback in Houston and as a Heisman finalist at Stanford, he was often the reluctant center of media attention. Even now, he tries to avoid the sideshows that come with being an elite quarterback.
He's selective about endorsement deals. He's been known to ride a bike to pick up takeout food just for the workout. He goes to Europe in the offseason so he can walk around without being recognized.
"He's so, so humble. He's always been that way," said Eliot Allen, Luck's coach at Stratford High School in Houston. "My basic job was, one, to stay out of the way and, two, to steer him clear of the media. I just think he was really uncomfortable because he was worried what his teammates would think about him talking to the media. He didn't want to be the guy up front."
Luck can't avoid being up front this week, with Sunday night's season opener against former Colts star Peyton Manning looming
In 2010, the Heisman Trophy runner-up was billed as the most polished college quarterback since Manning graduated in 1998, but he gave up the big bucks to return to Stanford.
He spent his final college season trying to get the Cardinal in the national title hunt, ignoring all the talk about him being the No. 1 pick. Indianapolis used the pick on Luck over 2011 Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. Because he was replacing Manning, he faced constant comparisons to the future Hall-of-Famer.
As rookies, Luck and Griffin both led their teams to the playoffs. Griffin bested Luck to earn the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year Award.
Last year, it looked like Luck would surpass Griffin — who struggled to return from a knee injury — and become the league's top young quarterback. Luck beat Manning's Broncos and eventual Super Bowl champion Seattle, won the AFC South title and orchestrated the second-biggest playoff comeback in NFL history. But the championship went to 2012 draft classmate Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
Luck says he never worries about who is seen as the best quarterback. Instead, he focuses on self-improvement.
While many players dreamed of striking it rich in pro football, Luck spent part of his childhood in Europe developing an affinity for soccer and travel. He learned lessons watching his father — a former NFL quarterback who held jobs in the World League of American Football and NFL Europe — maneuver through reporters' questions.
"I think subconsciously, I really did learn a lot of stuff from my dad," Luck said. "I'd watch and pick things up. I was admonished by him once for doing an interview when I was in high school. ... He said 'You have to understand the weight of what you say. You can't take it back.'"
Luck didn't make that mistake again, even as he attempted to answer all those questions about the comparisons with Manning. Time after time, Luck had the same response: Anyone who attempted to match Manning's numbers would eventually go crazy.
Luck's father isn't surprised that his son doesn't quite fit the mold of the typical NFL star.
"He's always been a pretty curious kid," Oliver Luck said. "We didn't really know how long we were going to be in Europe when we went over there, so we tried to take advantage of the weekends to go to Paris or the Alps or whatever, so they got to see a lot. A lot of guys fly around the world in the offseason because they have the resources to do it. In his case, I think he really enjoys Europe."
And his approach to stardom has been different. Instead of filming commercials for extra money during his rookie season, Luck immersed himself in film study and became a steadying influence on one of the youngest teams in the NFL.
Then, in Year 2, Luck cut down on his mistakes, and like Manning, won a division title.
But after throwing seven interceptions in two playoff games, Luck changed the offseason script.
"I think I handled the business side of things a little better, the endorsements and this and that and what it all entails," he said. "With time, you understand how to approach those things a little better."
That sounded awfully familiar to Colts quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen.
"Peyton was great at those things. He studied it, and every year he'd see if he could improve that (time management) by 1 percent. ... I think Andrew will get there," Christensen said. "I think each year he (Luck) gets wiser, and each year, he gets more of an ability to say no. He's such a nice guy, it's hard to say no and sift through that stuff."
The Colts have gradually given Luck more leadership responsibilities.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton has allowed his prized pupil to install part of the offense at each of the last two training camps, and this year, the Colts plan to use more no-huddle.
It's one of the few trends Luck's friends have seen him embrace.
"One thing that I love about him is that he hasn't changed," receiver Reggie Wayne said. "He came in loving the game of football, wanting to be the best, wanting to do everything he can to help the team win and he's still the same way. I really believe he's going to be that dude when it's all said and done. He's worthy of being the first pick of the draft. He's worthy of replacing an all-time great."
And the unconventional Luck has started to embrace the lifestyle.
"I do realize it's not normal to play a sport for a living, and I don't take that for granted," Luck said. "When a fan comes up to you (in a grocery store) and shakes your hand and tells you they like what you do, it's fun."