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INDIANAPOLIS – Matt Hasselbeck was the first and Jacoby Brissett was the last.

In between, the Colts had to turn to Charlie Whitehurst, Josh Freeman, Ryan Lindley…and Scott Tolzien to try and win an NFL game. A reliance on Frank Gore in the Wildcat was even a staple of recent offenses.

While their $140 million dollar quarterback watched, the Colts suffered through their first three-year playoff drought in nearly 25 years.

Firings occurred at general manager and head coach.

The thought of would Andrew Luck ever play football again even crept into the mind of No. 12 himself.

Now, those thoughts are gone.

It’s time for Luck to play in a real NFL game for the first time since Week 17 of the 2016 season.

From injuring his shoulder in Nashville during Week Three of the 2015 season, through rehab, surgery, hopes, steps back, trips to the Netherlands and California, Luck is going to be under center for the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon, when the 2018 regular season kicks off.

And the Colts have not shied away from painting their expectations for the second phase of Luck’s heavily scrutinized career.

“I have a lot of confidence,” general manager Chris Ballard says about Luck, “because I’ve been watching him through this entire process of where he’s going.

“To be honest with you, I don’t think we’ve seen the best of Andrew Luck. I really don’t. I think we are about to. I don’t ever want to say injury is a good thing. But to see the growth in him over this last year and a half has been really fun to watch.”

While Luck’s physical health has seen tangible results, he openly admits that his mental health has grown.

Luck says he’s a better person and that being away from football has humbled his appreciation for the game.

“That it’s okay to ask for help, that it’s okay to talk to people about things,” Luck says of what he learned through this process, after some stubborn moments leading to a longer rehab. “I am in a much better place. I think more than anything I am being honest to myself, which allows me to be honest to others and I believe in myself through this.

“And how grateful I am to be able to play a team sport, to get to play – really, it’s a game. It’s a game that I got to play organizing Swedish and English kids in an elementary school in Germany to teach them how to play football because my dad played football. I’m so grateful to play this game and be part of to a team sport and have teammates.”

When Luck gets under center on Sunday afternoon against the Bengals, he will see just 5 of the same starters (on either side of the ball) from his last game, which occurred on Jan. 1, 2017.

Through all the ups and downs—more downs than ups—and even the nightmarish question on if he would play a game again, Luck is back.

And even he believes the best is yet to come.

“I’m not sure what else to say, but I just believe I’m on the right path,” the soon-to-be 29-year-old Luck says.

 

“Absolutely, I believe I’m going to be better than I was. I really, really do. I believe I’ll be a better quarterback for this team, a better teammate.”