Dec. 25, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -
By MICHAEL MAROT, The Associated Press
Matt Overton looks around the Colts' locker room and feels like the luckiest guy in town.
It's not just because he's playing for the winners of the AFC South and preparing for a second straight playoff run. Or that he participated in one of the greatest one-season turnarounds in NFL history. Or just that he's here at all, fulfilling an improbable NFL dream.
For the long snapper, life has always been about more than football.
"I think it started with my grandfather, who played college football at the University of Washington and coached football for years and was always serving his teammates and coaches and those around the church," Overton said Tuesday. "My dad was a police officer and it was the same thing. Giving back was something I wanted to do."
Overton has done his part better than most.
Long before he made it to the NFL, he teamed with Maurice Clarett to run a football camp for children in Omaha, Neb. Yes, that Maurice Clarett.
This summer, Overton invited 10 patients from Riley Hospital for Children to a Justin Bieber concert in Indianapolis and he's planning to make a Christmas Day visit to the one girl, Mia Benge, who couldn't attend the concert because she was too ill.
Serving others came naturally to Overton because it was in his genes. Reaching the big stage of the NFL was not.
The 6-foot-1, 242-pound Overton played his college ball at Western Washington, a Division II school that's hardly a mandatory stop for NFL scouts. His pro career began in the barely recognizable arenafootball2 league.
He made two stops in the Arena Football League, was cut twice by the Seahawks in training camp and once by the Texans. And when the AFL's best long snapper couldn't find a full-time job in 2010, he challenged his agent to get him one -- explaining that if a guy recently released from prison could get signed, he should have a contract, too.
"It was odd because my first year in the UFL, our punter was Todd Sauerbrun and he was with Maurice in Denver, so I'd heard all those stories about Maurice," Overton said, recalling his initial thoughts after getting cut by Seattle in 2010. "I thought 'Man, how can a guy like that, who's been incarcerated get a shot and I can't?'"
Eventually, Overton did get his shot alongside Clarett in Omaha, and the odd couple became close friends.
Overton helped provide Clarett, the guy who led Ohio State to a national championship and served prison time for robbery, with a new perspective on life.
Clarett wouldn't allow Overton to let go of his NFL dream, no matter how far-fetched it may have seemed.
So when the rebuilding Colts signed Overton during the 2012 offseason, they shared the joy.
"He's undersized, he's five years removed from college, he got cut by the UFL, he comes from a situation where he's not supposed to make it. He had plenty of excuses or reasons to give up. My brother Matt doesn't give up," said Clarett, who is now pursuing a rugby career. "It's a Hollywood story how the guy from Western Washington hooked up with the guy from prison. But he's living the American dream."
Indianapolis turned out to be a good fit for Overton.
Not only did he join a team that was in full rebuild mode, he walked into a locker room where his philosophy was already an essential part of the franchise.
Peyton Manning did so much community work that one of the city's children's hospitals was named after the superstar quarterback. Andrew Luck joined a long list of Colts players such as former defensive captain Gary Brackett when he helped at the city's other big pediatric hospital, Riley. Former players such as Tarik Glenn, Marlin Jackson and Jeff Saturday are still involved in community work in the area.
Now, at age 28 and in his second NFL season, Overton can't believe his good fortune.
He's snapping footballs to Pat McAfee, one of the league's best punters, and Adam Vinatieri, who needs six points to become the seventh member of the NFL's elite 2,000-point club and nine to pass George Blanda for No. 6 on the career list. It could happen Sunday against Jacksonville (4-11).
Since he arrived in town, the Colts (10-5) have won 21 games, and he works every day around guys like Luck, AFC sacks leader Robert Mathis and perennial Pro Bowl receiver Reggie Wayne.
Overton hasn't changed.
"He's a good guy," said Vinatieri, a four-time Super Bowl champion. "He's definitely one of those guys who works hard at his trade. He, Pat and myself, we really blend well together."
Overton still speaks regularly with Clarett and checks in frequently with Benge, a high school freshman who was battling a brain tumor when they met. And while Overton isn't going home Wednesday, he does plan to visit with Benge and her family Christmas Day.
"She's doing really good, thanks for asking," he said. "I'm just fortunate to be in the position to help. Since coming to Indy, (community work) has been a high priority, a high priority from (team owner Jim) Irsay on down."
But Clarett knew that long ago.
"I call him the modern day Rudy. He inspired me to do the things that I was trying to do, to never give up," Clarett said. "A lot of people say they can do it, they care about the community and really they could care less. He truly cares."