With the Saints set to visit Indianapolis for an exhibition game Saturday, reporters couldn’t resist asking New Orleans coach Sean Payton whether he believed Marrero native and Colts receiver Reggie Wayne could resurge from an anterior cruciate ligament the player tore last year.
Payton not only said ‘yes,’ but he also revealed he wanted Wayne on his team way back when the receiver was in high school and still years away from his first of six career Pro Bowls. Payton might’ve gotten Wayne, too, had it not been for one Curtis Johnson, the ex-wide receivers coach at Miami, a former Saints assistant and the man currently heading Tulane’s football program.
As Payton tells it, when he was coaching quarterbacks at the University of Illinois in 1996, he was recruiting players in Louisiana and targeted Wayne, who was preparing to enter college after twice being an All-State selection at John Ehret High in Marrero.
However, he was no match for the savvy Johnson, who was at Miami from 1996-2005 before going to Payton’s staff for the next six seasons and eventually joining Tulane in 2012.
“We spent a better part of a week going in and out of these schools — we might, I would say, we got to about 30, 35 schools,” Payton told journalists Tuesday.
“Had I been just solo with a map I probably would have gotten to 12; but Curtis would drive in, parking lot, back door, in a gymnasium, right to the coach, where normally you might go to the front desk and get a pass and go through all the correct steps.”
Johnson landed Wayne as well as future nine-time Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed (Destrehan) out of Louisiana for Miami.
Wayne subsequently set what still stands as the school’s all-time record for catches (173), and his 2,510 receiving yards are the second-most in the program’s history.
Of course, Wayne was far from done. He has 1,006 regular-season catches for 80 touchdowns and 13,566 yards in 14 years with Indianapolis and in the NFL, and he helped the Colts win a Super Bowl at the end of the 2006 campaign before losing a league title game to Payton, Johnson and the Saints three seasons later.
He had furthermore played in 189 straight games — the most among active players and third-most ever by an NFL wide receiver — before tearing an ACL seven games into 2013 and not playing again last season.
Wayne, 35, has since reported to training camp with the Colts at Anderson University in Indiana. Reports out of Anderson are that Wayne hasn’t been hindered when he’s practiced and is frequently quarterback Andrew Luck’s primary target, remarkable given the wideout’s age and the fact his injury wasn’t even a year ago.
But the Colts held him out of their first two preseason exhibitions this year, a loss at the Jets on Aug. 7 and a defeat at home against the Giants nine days later. Wayne has said he’d like his first contact in a game to be in the preseason, and annually the third exhibition is usually when NFL teams’ regulars see the most action.
Yet Colts coach Chuck Pagano has informed the media it remains a game-time decision whether Wayne takes the field against his hometown’s NFL franchise on Saturday.
In a light moment at camp during which Pagano asked Wayne questions in a news conference, the receiver said it was hard for him to comprehend not being able to play after the ironman streak he had assembled when he was hurt.
“When you’re out there on a daily basis, you always think, ‘I am going to be all right, I am going to be here,’ ” Wayne said, according to a transcript supplied by ESPN.
“But then when it’s pulled from right under your feet, it’s humbling.”
He added, “Last year was rough for me — it really was. I took that time to get back right, and at the same time it made me respect it, it made me understand it, ... it made me want to be out there (with the team) even more, because you never know, so you have to treat it as such.”
Teased about whether he had forgotten to play football while recovering, Wayne retorted that the sport to him was “even easier than riding a bike” and more akin to “waking up and brushing your teeth.”
Count Payton as one of those who thinks Wayne can live up to the confidence he expressed, whether or not the receiver suits up Saturday.
“He’s an extremely talented player,” Payton said. “Look, he is very competitive — he’s the type of player that could do that, that could recover from an injury like that, and he has had a great career.”