One of the more celebratory weeks of Sam Ehlinger’s life turned tragic Thursday afternoon. The Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback was rushed home from his first NFL mini-camp after his younger brother Jake, a linebacker at the University of Texas, was found dead in Austin, Texas.
No details have been released, but the Colts reacted immediately to the tragedy by getting Ehlinger on a plane as soon as possible.
“There are no magic words in these moments, but all we can do is be there to love and support Sam,” head coach Frank Reich said in a statement to the Austin American-Statesman. “We will do everything we can. With Sam, our thoughts and prayers are with him and his mother and his sister as they mourn the tragic death of Sam’s brother, Jake.”
The horrific news was not the first time the family has dealt with an untimely loss of life. Ehlinger’s father, Ross, suffered an apparent heart attack while competing in a triathlon and died in the San Francisco Bay in 2013.
Ehlinger was forced to become the man of the house at an early age, and it has resulted in a maturity beyond his years.
The Colts selected Ehlinger in the sixth round of last week’s NFL draft, drawn by his natural leadership ability and relentless competitive drive.
“Really, he was like a Blue Card guy for us,” Indianapolis college scouting coordinator Anthony Coughlan said on draft day, referencing the team’s award for the highest character players in each class. “I thought he was a no-brainer horseshoe fit. Even from the Zoom calls over the summer, in training camp, with (Texas’) staff, everybody just lights up about the kid — his competitive spirit, work ethic, mental toughness, physical toughness. So he’s just about everything we’re about.
“And, especially at that position, it’s so important. So we’re jacked to get him. Me and (assistant director of college scouting) Matt (Terpening) talked to him at the Senior Bowl. There was a couple other scouts there, and everybody from that conversation was just blown away. And really just everything lined up with what the school said, and that’s what really put the stamp on it.”
Ehlinger is expected to compete with returning Jacob Eason and fellow newcomer Jalen Morton for the backup role behind new starter Carson Wentz.
If he makes the roster and things progress in a certain way, Ehlinger could eventually carve out a role with a specific set of plays in the offense. Head coach Sean Payton popularized that practice with former BYU star Taysom Hill behind Drew Brees the past several years for the New Orleans Saints.
Reich tried a similar approach last season with Jacoby Brissett replacing starter Philip Rivers in short-yardage and goal-line situations.
There’s been no specific talk about Ehlinger’s role yet, and he’s certainly not pressing the issue. A four-year starter for the Longhorns, he’s focused on learning the game at the NFL level and competing in whichever ways the coaches see fit.
“I think that it’s kind of an understood that I’m here to play quarterback, and I’ll do whatever it takes to help the team win,” Ehlinger said last week. “And that’s my mentality, and I’m willing to do whatever that takes.”
Several times throughout his media availability, Ehlinger emphasized he wants to help the franchise in whatever role possible.
For the short-term future at least, the franchise will be more focused on doing whatever is necessary to help the new quarterback and his family.
“It’s very sad and tragic news that we received (Thursday) afternoon during such an exciting time for the family, and our hearts and prayers are with the whole family,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said in a statement to the American-Statesman. “I know how close they were, and we’re just really stunned. But we are prayerful, and we know God has a plan. We are doing everything we can to console the family and do what we can to make things as easy as possible at this difficult time.”