The NFL season begins Thursday night, so it’s time to follow your favorite team, players on your fantasy team and, perhaps, that guy who grew up in your hometown.
At least 17 players from Indiana high schools are on NFL rosters entering Week 1. Some are stars and some are on practice squads.
They come from the far north (Penn) to the deep south (Heritage Hills), with representation from the Region (Merrillville, East Chicago Central) and Central Indiana (Plainfield, Cathedral, Bishop Chatard, Ben Davis and more).
And there are two NFL players from Hamilton Southeastern.
See if you recognize any of these players from years gone by.
• Braxston Cave, Penn, Lions, C
On the field: Still trying to get there. He has been on the rosters of the Patriots, Redskins and Browns before this season. He’s currently on the Lions’ practice squad.
To the title game: He was the starting center and a third-team All-American for the Notre Dame team that went to the national championship game in the 2012 season.
• Jay Cutler, Heritage Hills, Bears, QB
On the field: He piles up big numbers, but he’s the player many Bears fans love to hate. He passed for 3,812 yards last season, with 28 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. He’s entering his seventh year as the Bears’ starter.
Growing family: Cutler and reality TV star Kristin Cavallari (‘Laguna Beach: the Real Orange County’ and ‘The Hills’) have two sons and are expecting a third child, a girl, in the fall.
• Jack Doyle, Cathedral, Colts, TE
On the field: He’s the third option at tight end for the Colts, but if Coby Fleener or Dwyane Allen is out, he’s a viable option. He had 18 catches, two for touchdowns, last season. He had six catches in the playoffs.
Two-sport star: Not only has Doyle been a part of Cathedral’s football dynasty, he helped the Irish win a state rugby title.
• Tyler Eifert, Fort Wayne Bishop Dwenger, Bengals, TE
On the field: If he’s on the field, he’s a weapon. He had 36 receptions as a rookie, but just one game and three catches into his second season, he was taken out by an elbow injury.
Boiler connection: Eifert attended Notre Dame, but his father, Greg, played 115 games for Gene Keady on Purdue’s basketball team.
• MarQueis Gray, Ben Davis, Bills, TE
On the field: He is in his third year and with his third team. He has 11 receptions for 142 yards.
Position swap: Ben Davis isn’t a den of tight ends, but Gray was one of the Giants’ stars at quarterback. He also played QB at the University of Minnesota before bulking up and switching to tight end.
• Randy Gregory, Hamilton Southeastern, Cowboys, DL
On the field: He is listed as the backup right defensive end for the Cowboys. He was drafted 60th overall this year, in the second round.
What could have been: He had a reputation as a top-10 talent at Nebraska, but he tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Scouting Combine, dropping his stock. ‘I don’t think it’s a weed problem. I think it’s decision making. I think I’m immature,’ he said later.
• James Hurst, Plainfield, Ravens, OL
On the field: He appeared in all 16 games for the Ravens as a rookie, starting five.
Opening holes: He consistently graded as one of the best offensive linemen in the state his junior and senior seasons at Plainfield and in the Atlantic Coast Conference for four seasons at North Carolina.
• Chris Jones, Brownsburg, Patriots, DL
On the field: He played in 28 games over the past two seasons in New England, compiling nine sacks.
PUP: He’s on the physically unable to perform list, so the start of his season is delayed.
• Ryan Kerrigan, Muncie Central, Redskins, LB
On the field: He has started every game in all four seasons in Washington, compiling 38 sacks (13.5 last season) with two interception returns for touchdowns. He made the 2012 Pro Bowl.
Clean it out: Kerrigan had knee surgery in May to clean out bone spurs, and he didn’t play in any preseason games. He’s set for the start of the season.
• Zack Martin, Bishop Chatard, Cowboys, OL
On the field: Just one year into his career and Martin is already a consensus top-100 player in the NFL. He was a first-team All-Pro as a rookie.
‘A little scare’: Martin suffered a neck ‘stinger’ while blocking during a scrimmage against the St. Louis Rams in training camp. ‘Just a little scare, but everything’s fine,’ he said.
• Andrew McDonald, Warren Central, Browns, OL
On the field: He’s still trying to get there. He has been on five rosters, including the Indianapolis Colts, but has yet to see action in a regular season game. He’s on the Browns’ practice squad.
‘We’re all for you’: He made 25 starts for the Indiana Hoosiers, including 12 at left tackle as a senior in 2011.
• Mike Neal, Merrillville, Packers, LB
On the field: He’s entering his sixth season with the Packers. He played in every game the past two years. He has 15 regular-season sacks and registered one-half sack in last year’s playoffs.
He will pump (clap) you up! He established team records at Purdue in bench press (510 pounds) and squat (615), according to his Packers bio.
• Nathan Palmer, Elkhart Central, Patriots, WR
On the field: He has been with three teams, including the Indianapolis Colts, before joining the Patriots’ practice squad this week. He has one catch, for -4 yards, with the Colts in 2012.
He has pipes: Palmer grew up singing and has two soul releases. He has plans for a third in the spring.
• Joe Reitz, Hamilton Southeastern, Colts, OL
On the field: When the Colts have a hole to fill on the offensive line, they often turn to Reitz, who has taken turns at several O-Line spot.
Go Broncos! He’s the No. 4 all-time leading basketball scorer at Western Michigan (1,713) and the No. 3 rebounder (939).
• Kawann Short, East Chicago Central, Panthers, DL
On the field: Entering his third season in Carolina, he made nine starts last year, stuffing the middle and getting in on 46 tackles (3.5 sacks).
He’s a hooper, too: High school basketball fans may remember him. He was the center on an EC Central squad that defeated Eric Gordon-led North Central for the 2007 Class 4A championship. He had 20 points and 10 rebounds in the title game.
• Rod Smith, Fort Wayne Harding, Seahawks, RB
On the field: The undrafted rookie free agent is on the practice squad.
Versatility: He played at Ohio State before being dismissed from the team last season. He caught passes and returned kickoffs for the Buckeyes, as well.
• Anthony Spencer, Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, Saints, DL
On the field: Saints?! Yep, the Dallas Cowboys and Spencer parted ways after eight seasons. Spencer had 32.5 sacks his first two seasons before injuries limited him to 14 games and one-half sack over the past two years. The Saints picked him up, but he has already been put on injured reserve.
Den of defensive ends: Spencer played for Purdue in 2005 and ’06, piling up an NCAA-best 26.5 tackles for loss his final season.