ANDERSON, Ind. — This time last year, he arrived for training camp as another of the many ambitious, undrafted unknowns trying to prove themselves worthy of an Indianapolis Colts roster spot.
But Tyler Varga had the stuff to make it. And he did.
The rookie running back from Yale played with the kind of energy that coaches love to see in these supposedly meaningless exhibition games. It wasn’t so much that he was going to be a star running back, but he got noticed for his intensity in everything he did, from running the ball, blocking or flying down the field on special teams. Colts owner Jim Irsay was impressed enough to mention Varga by name during an in-game TV interview in late August.
That’s what made Tuesday a humbling reminder of how harsh the NFL can be. Varga didn’t show up at training camp. The Colts first placed him on the reserve/did not report list, a paperwork formality before placing him on the reserve/retired list.
In a league where player careers last about three years on average, a kid who inspired for such a brief time was finished after only one. And, as is the business of professional football, the Colts signed another running back in his place later in the afternoon.
Varga suffered a concussion in a Week 3 win at Tennessee and ended up on season-ending injured reserve. The effects of that head injury would linger for four months.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was asked about Varga on Wednesday morning, after his team had completed its first walk-through workout at training camp.
“It’s an unfortunate thing because Tyler finally got back and got himself well,” Pagano said. “Physically, he was in phenomenal shape. He looked like the same guy a year ago at training camp as a college free agent that makes this team.
“So it’s unfortunate that things didn’t work out because he had a great offseason. Through every phase, he didn’t miss a beat. He goes all the way through OTAs. Again, it’s just an unfortunate thing.”
Today’s NFL has more players concerned about the long-term effects of concussions as well as the possibility of developing chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to head injuries. More players are retiring at a younger age.
But Varga’s decision to walk away after only one year, at age 22, still came as a bit of a surprise, especially when considering his commitment to continuing his career during offseason training activities. Varga’s official stats: one 2-yard carry, an 18-yard pass reception, three special teams tackles, six kickoff returns for average of 25.2 yards in three games.
“I respect everybody’s decision when it comes to health and player safety,” Pagano said. “I listen to our docs. I totally respect his decision, and anybody’s decision to do whatever they want to do.”
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