INDIANAPOLIS — There is a secret to Reggie Wayne's success.
The veteran wide receiver's natural talent is readily apparent to anyone who has seen an Indianapolis Colts game in the past 13 seasons. And everyone who has shown up a little early for training camp practices at Anderson University the past four summers knows about Wayne's unparalleled work ethic.
But there's another — far less public — factor that keeps the 34-year-old's engines running. Fear.
Well, maybe that's not the correct word exactly. But it's certainly something close to that.
Wayne always talks about the cold truth of business in the NFL. Every player is expendable. Each year dozens of younger guys are brought into practice facilities around the league with one goal in mind — stealing sombody else's job.
Wayne combats that the only way he knows how — by approaching each season as though its his rookie year and attempting to impress his teammates and coaches all over again.
Former Chicago Bulls coach Phil Jackson said a similar mentality was one of the reasons his teams remained hungry throughout their six NBA championship runs. Wayne has been selected to six Pro Bowls, and he enters tonight's game against the San Diego Chargers needing just four receptions to become the ninth player ever with 1,000 in his career.
But his approach hasn't changed since the day he was drafted.
"Every year he comes in, it's like starting over," said Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, whose relationship with Wayne dates back to their mutual days at the University of Miami. "He's got his iPad out, he's got his notepad and he treats it like his rookie year. He takes no days for granted, and he takes no practices for granted."
That's just one of the reasons second-year quarterback Andrew Luck defers to Wayne as the leader of the offense.
He could have walked away as a free agent after Indianapolis finished 2-14 in 2011. There was a strong offer from at least one other franchise — reportedly the New England Patriots, though Wayne has never confirmed it — and the receiver came close to selling his house in Indiana.
But when Pagano got the Colts head coaching job, one of his first calls was to Wayne. He asked for his long-time friend's trust and said he'd make sure the journey was worth the veteran's investment.
Wayne agreed to return, then went out and helped Indianapolis secure a surprise 11-5 season and an AFC wild card playoff spot last year. This year, the Colts are off to a 4-1 start. And Wayne's right in the middle of it all with a team-high 28 catches for 365 yards and two scores.
"It's in his DNA," Pagano said. "All he wants to do is win. And whatever he has to do to help us win, that's what he's going to do. From day one, we never used the 'R' word (rebuilding) around here. Nobody was allowed to use it. So he was just another one of those guys that led the charge. He's the guy with the sword and shield running up the hill. And guys followed him."
They still do.
Second-year wide receiver T.Y. Hilton grinned like a schoolboy during training camp when he was asked how it felt to have his locker moved next to Wayne's at Lucas Oil Stadium. Free-agent addition Darrius Heyward-Bey attached himself to Wayne almost as soon as he entered the team's facility and has shadowed the veteran's every move.
When Colts' brass questioned second-year wide receiver LaVon Brazill's maturity during the spring, Wayne was assigned to look over the youngster.
He's an old dog — especially in NFL years — but he's still learning new tricks.
This is the second straight offseason in which Wayne has been asked to learn a new offense. That's no simple task after spending his first 11 years in the league running the same scheme with Peyton Manning.
No matter what system he's in, Wayne continues to produce. And his teammates continue to look up to him.
It's a lofty perch and one he couldn't have imagined as a rookie entering the league in 2001.
"When I first got in, I just wanted to feel like I was part of the family," he said. "You don't look down 13 years later and expect yourself to still be playing. You're just hopeful that you can stay as healthy as you can for as long as you can and then go from there."
Wayne has appeared in every Colts game since 2002, and he enters tonight's contest with 996 career catches for 13,428 yards and 80 touchdowns.
He's never been a numbers guy. But 1,000 receptions would put him into an elite club.
"A thousand catches, that's not something I ever dreamed of," he said. "It's kind of a weird feeling. It feels kind of weird to talk about it. But I'm happy. I guess that just shows that I've been playing a long time."