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Essex answers the call

Harding grad happy to be in Colts’ uniform

Trai Essex says it’s straight gospel: He really wasn’t in job candidate mode last Sunday, with the TV on and the NFL season going ahead without him.

“Actually, on Sunday, I was watching more as a fan than anything,” says the 6-foot-5, 324-pound Essex, who came out of Harding High School and Northwestern to play seven seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and now, wonder of wonders, is an Indianapolis Colt.

That happened Sunday night, when the games were done and his phone started buzzing after being mostly silent after the Steelers cut him loose.

“I was just trying to let the chips fall where they may,” Essex goes on. “You don’t know who will call, who had my number because that whole week prior to Sunday I didn’t get any phone calls saying be on the lookout. So I didn’t know what to expect, so Sunday I was just kind of watching games you know as a fan.”

A pause.

“I was obviously a little more aware that a couple of offensive linemen went down …”

Well, sure. Offensive linemen, after all, are hardly a dime a dozen in the NFL. Everybody needs ’em. Everybody’s always one or two short.

“Definitely,” Essex said this week. “You know, there’s more offensive linemen on the field than there is any other position. There’s five playing at once. It’s the only position on a football team where that’s that many people playing.

“So I knew that there would be a need, especially with injuries and all that being a part of everyday life in the NFL. And I’m happy to be in a position to help.”

Happier yet that the Colts were one of the teams calling last Sunday. Actually, Essex says, it was Jacksonville who contacted him first (“They called me right away when one of their guys went down,” he says).

And then the phone rang again, and the Colts were on the line.

To say he jumped at the opportunity might be soft-selling it a bit.

“I actually didn’t know any of the Colts’ guys had gotten hurt until they called me,” he says. “They were definitely a clear-cut favorite from the beginning. Two hours from Fort Wayne. … I’m just happy to be here. It’s good to be home.”

And it’s a good situation for him, apart from that. With seven years, 75 games and 28 starts under his belt, the 29-year-old Essex is immediately one of the young Colts’ wily veterans He’s played every position on the offensive line at one time or another. And he comes to a team whose offensive coordinator is Bruce Arians, who came over from Pittsburgh, and whose line coach is Harold Goodwin, also a Steelers refugee.

“Obviously there is history there,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said last week. “He knows the offense. He knows the calls so he’s a plug-in guy. He also gives you great versatility. He’s played all five spots in the past, so he can play inside, he can play outside.”

As for Essex, he already feels at home. Even if not everything feels familiar.

“I just found out this yesterday, actually, that I’m the second-oldest guy on the offense,” Essex said this week. “It’s just kind of crazy because I’ve always been the younger guy rather than older. With that being said, I want to help mentor these young guys that are on the offensive line. Also, make a new team for myself. When I got cut, I didn’t know how to respond to it. I thought it could possibly happen but I didn’t think it would. So at first, I was just waiting by the phone.”

The wait is over.

bensmith@jg.net

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