INDIANAPOLIS — Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton started to feel pressure build in his neck on the team's plane ride home after its last preseason game against the Detroit Lions.
That night, he lost all feeling in the left side of his body. The numbness prevented him from sleeping. Tossing and turning for hours at a time, Hilton began contemplating his future.
It would quickly lead to surgery to repair a disc blocking a nerve in his neck and the pain he felt in the following days nearly forced Hilton to hang up his cleats for good.
“The first two days out of surgery, I didn’t think I’d be back, man, to be honest with you," Hilton said. "It was just painful. It was very painful. I hope nobody has to go through that at all. It sucks, especially not being able to play the game that I love after being in training camp so long with my team grinding and being so happy. God is good."
Searching for an answer on how to deal with the pain while trying to decide if returning to football was what he really wanted to do, Hilton reached out to someone who knows just how taxing the NFL can be — former Colts QB Andrew Luck.
Luck retired from the NFL after seven seasons due to a constant cycle of rehab and recover. The former No. 1 overall pick visited Hilton and they talked about the importance of doing what was best for his career and long-term health.
"I talked to Andrew, that was probably the wrong thing to do," Hilton said with a smirk. "(Luck) just wanted me to be good with it, get back healthy and don't rush it. ... He was a big supporter. My family just continued to check on me, so I was good once I got over those two to three days I started feeling better."
This, however, is now the fourth consecutive season Hilton has missed time. The 5-9, 183-pound receiver has battled lower body injuries throughout his career, but a neck injury brings increased levels of uncertainty.
Hilton entered training camp dealing with the neck issue, but the initial pain went away as camp progressed. Hilton said he aggravated the injury after taking a hard fall during the team's final camp practice, leading to the issues following the game in Detroit.
"I had no feeling on my left side," Hilton said. "It's tough. I played with a lot of stuff, and from the plane ride home to getting back, man, just nothing I could do physically because I had no feeling at all.
"I couldn't sleep. I'm a side sleeper so I couldn't lay in my side. I was up. It felt like I was sleeping for hours, but it was only 30 minutes going off, so I was up pretty much the whole time."
Now, Hilton said, the pain in his neck is gone, and he's working to regain strength and return to playing shape.
He returned to practice Wednesday, but his status from Sunday's game against the Houston Texans is unclear.
Linebacker Darius Leonard said Hilton's return brings a renewed energy and swagger to practice. No one is betting against Hilton's ability to return, especially versus a team he's had such great success against in Houston. In 19 games, Hilton has 102 catches for 1,803 yards and 11 touchdowns vs. the Texans.
Ultimately, Hilton said he has to listen to the medical staff when determining his status on Sunday,
“I mean I have to practice. That’s up to the docs," he said. "I’ve got to get my legs back under me. I’ve got to pass some tests. So, just cause I’m practicing doesn’t mean I’m playing. I’m just out there giving this team the boost that we need.”
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts' T.Y. Hilton almost retired before talking to Andrew Luck