ELKHART — Nathan Palmer toed the line between two drill cones, football tucked under his arm.
When the whistle blew, the Indianapolis Colts wide receiver darted forward, sidestepping the oncoming defender and crossing the opposite cone line untouched.
“I want another round!” 10-year-old Ethan Robinson called out, daring Palmer to beat him again.
The whistle blew again, but this time, Ethan got a hand on the shifty receiver when Palmer tried to vault him. The onlooking crowd of fellow campers piled on to Ethan in celebration as Palmer jogged down the field laughing.
Palmer, a Central graduate, returned to his old stomping grounds at Pierre Moran Middle School to host his first Nathan Palmer and Friends Football Camp.
Helped by former Blue Blazer and Northern Illinois teammate Marcus Perez, Jimtown grad and St. Francis defensive back Ross Bauman and a handful of Central coaches and athletes, Palmer ran around 60 third- to eighth-graders through agility, lateral, movement and team-building drills on Saturday, June 22.
“I haven’t seen kids sweat this hard in so long,” said Palmer, whose nickname is NaPalm. “I haven’t even sweat this hard in so long and I’ve been in mini-camp. It’s been great see the kids smiling and having fun, out here doing something positive on a Saturday.”
Palmer did several drills alongside the campers, and some of the braver ones — like Ethan — challenged him to one-on-one face-offs. Lucas Fletcher, a seventh-grader at St. Thomas, said that he got to throw the ball to Palmer, a bigger target than he’s accustomed to on his varsity seventh- and eighth-grade team.
“The people here are awesome,” Lucas said. “Some people I don’t really know, but I got to know them.”
Palmer grew up a short walk from Pierre Moran and says he enjoys coming back to Elkhart to relax and get away from the business side of football. Palmer hopes to inspire campers in his hometown the same way he was inspired at a football camp when he was in middle school.
“We’re living in a time right now that, even if you have big dreams, people say it’s not likely to happen,” Palmer said. “I want to be out here and show it is likely to happen. I’m from Elkhart, not a big football city. I didn’t go to a big college. I went to Northern Illinois, not a Big Ten college or anything. But with hard work and dedication, you can do whatever you put your mind to.”
The camp hadn’t even ended before Palmer started envisioning plans for next year, including, he joked, introductions and smoke machines. Palmer does hope to do more marketing for the camp and expand it beyond football. He wants to include a variety of sports, including swimming, basketball and track.
As for his second season with the Colts this fall, Palmer expects to see the field on special teams — what he calls “paying his dues” — and looks forward to a chance to make an impression on offense.
“When I get in, I’m going to be a playmaker,” he said. “That’s one thing I prided myself on in high school and at Northern, and now it’s time for me to do it in the pros.”
Palmer says he’s benefiting from being able to pick the mind of Reggie Wayne, a six-time Pro Bowl receiver in 12 years with the Colts, every day. He said he’s learning from Wayne’s crisp route running abilities.
“For him to be in the league for 12 years now, it’s crazy how he’s not the fastest guy out there or the quickest guy, but he still gets open by three or four steps,” Palmer said. “To be able to watch that and learn from him is unbelievable.”