Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Stanford Football [Print without images]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Luck a better player with his guys around

By Kevin Gemmell

For those who don't remember, Andrew Luck and Coby Fleener had a pretty funny exchange in the post-game news conference following a 28-14 win over Notre Dame -- Stanford's 2011 regular season finale.

It was a festive mood. The players were singing (poorly)"Macho Man" in the locker room. Fleener (flowing locks and all) was asked about catching Luck's touchdown that broke John Elway's school record.

"I think it's something I'll be able to tell my kids and grand kids when I'm watching Andrew on T.V. someday," Fleener replied.

Coby Fleener
Coby Fleener will be joining Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.
Luck rolled his eyes and said: "Like he's not going to be playing. Let's be real."

If only they knew then what they know now. Because now, it's real.

Fleener won't need to buy a television to watch Luck in the NFL. He'll have the true HD, 3D, RealD experience -- catching passes from Luck in Lucas Oil Stadium now that they are both Indianapolis Colts.

"I can't explain how excited I am," Fleener said. "As the draft went on, I knew there was a possibility, but I didn't want to set myself up for a letdown. And then as it got closer and closer I started thinking it could happen. My heart was beating through my chest when my phone rang and there was a huge smile on my face."

That's exactly how it should be.

Are they headed for Joe Montana-to-Jerry Rice-levels? Probably not. But Peyton Manning-to-Dallas Clark status? It's not impossible to imagine that in a few years.

Wide receiver Griff Whalen also signed on with the Colts as an undrafted free agent and they give Luck something he wouldn't otherwise have -- familiar faces; guys in the locker room he can pull aside and shoot the proverbial manure with; someone to go over the playbook with and bounce ideas off of. Luck can crack a nerd nation joke knowing that at least two guys are going to laugh.

Chances are the Colts are still a couple of seasons away from returning to the upper-echelon of the NFL power rankings. And much of their success -- or failure -- will fall on Luck's shoulders. Fleener will once again have to endure season-after-season of "How is Andrew handling the pressure" questions. But somehow, I don't think he'll mind.

"It's going to be a sacrifice," Fleener joked. "But for the chance to play with Andrew, I think I can make it work."

Luck has never given any indication that he can't handle public scrutiny. But he was also very closely guarded at Stanford. His media exposure was meticulously measured. It's going to be a lot more demanding in the NFL. And now Luck can pull aside a couple of trusted friends and let some stuff off his chest -- if he has to.

On the field, there is a chemistry that is invaluable; a rapport that can only come from a couple hundred practices, thousands of throws and, just guessing here, one or two nights out with the boys. Luck is a better quarterback with Fleener and Whalen on his team. Fleener is a better tight end with Luck as his quarterback. And the Colts are a better team for having the three of them together.

Luck always said his No. 1 reason for returning to Stanford for another year was to earn his degree. His second reason, a very close second, was to have one more season with his guys. Fleener and Whalen are his guys. They are in Luck's closely guarded inner-circle. And sharing meals, ideas and time together in the pros will have an incredibly positive impact.

I remember watching Luck and Fleener hugging it out in the locker room after the Fiesta Bowl loss -- the only time media were allowed into a Stanford locker room all season, per BCS mandate. And I took a mental note, thinking it was the end of a pretty-darn-good pitch-and-catch combo.

Little did we know, that was only the end of the beginning.