Nyheim Hines swears he spent his whole life not knowing he was a good enough football player to get drafted and play in the NFL.
He played football since he was 6 years old, running around on the peewee field. And Hines knew he was pretty good at every stage: as a kid, then in middle school, then high school. He was good enough to go to North Carolina State University, where he was known as a quick-burst running back who played a lot at wide receiver his first two seasons and hauled in almost 1,000 receiving yards in his three-year career.
Having natural athleticism helped. So did becoming an All-American sprinter in the 4x100 relay at North Carolina State. But where would Hines be without his twin sister?
Nyah Hines also ran track at North Carolina State and trained with her brother. It was a “confidence boost,” she said, to compete alongside the same person she had her whole life. They even lived in the same apartment building in college, and Nyah made dinner for them sometimes.
Back in the day, when they first started competing together, Nyah recalled going to the track at North Carolina State with their dad, who was also their coach. They were 8 or 9 years old, a time when girls are typically a little faster than boys. She beat Nyheim in races all the time, but this time she let him hang around for most of the 100-yard race. With 20 yards to go, she waved and took off.
The siblings had the same kind of commitment to each other later in life when Nyheim saw his football career take off in college. Some nights Nyah fed the footballs into the passing machine, and she even threw the ball to him from time to time.
“I feel like I could’ve been a quarterback someday,” she joked.
Nyheim didn’t always see it in him to be a professional football player, but Nyah did. To be clear, many others saw this, too. After an impressive performance at the NFL Combine, USA Today called him “the most underrated weapon in the 2018 NFL draft.” The Colts took him in the fourth round.
“I never knew,” he said. “It seemed like at every level I was a great player. … Some people are getting drafted and I’m beating them on routes. Looking back, I’ve just always been a good player. I never thought about it, but looking back on it now…”
Nyah, who graduated in 2018 and lives in Charlotte, was confident in her brother’s ability to make it in the NFL. She supported him leaving school early as soon as he was eligible to enter the draft. But it doesn’t mean she wasn’t nervous. The memory in her head at the time: when athletes enrolled at North Carolina State and administration gave them the blunt truth that the vast majority won’t play their sport professionally.
“To know someone worked so hard and then might not be able to get that chance … the odds are truly unpredictable,” she said. “When you’re working so hard for so long, I think it’s just scary.”
It was difficult to move far away from each other for the first time in their lives, Nyah said, but they still stay in touch every day through FaceTime and texting.
Nyheim has made himself into more of a receiving threat this season with 18 receptions for 120 yards through five games. That’s five more receptions than he has carries, thanks in part to the Colts already working with Marlon Mack, one of the most talented young running backs in the NFL.
Nyheim knows football doesn’t last forever. He spent a bye week last season working at a Bojangles fast-food restaurant in North Carolina and said he wants to get into franchises when he retires.
But that’s after football, in another phase of life. There will always be at least one constant for Nyheim, though, teasing him into thinking he can win a footrace and keeping tabs on him from Charlotte.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.