Tim Thornton in makeup?

"Yes, it happened," said the head coach of Peoria High School's football team. "They took me up to this room, put makeup on me, and told me we were going to do a little interview."

Thornton was at the headquarters of football equipment giant Riddell, in Des Plaines, on Tuesday, a guest of the company — which chartered buses to bring the coach, his staff, and his players up for a special surprise.

"I sat there in the room, and they pointed at this door and told me to watch, and I thought, 'Oh boy, what is this going to be?'

"And in came Peyton Manning. He sat down in the other chair and interviewed me for about 20 minutes. He wanted to know why we always go for two points on a conversion. Why we go for it on fourth down so much. Why we play at such a high tempo."

It was all part of an unforgettable day for the Lions football program. Every year, Riddell helps out high school football programs with equipment under its "Smarter Football" grant. Manning is Riddell's brand ambassador, and takes part in these giveaways. Riddell chose 10 other teams to each receive a $10,000 grant for their program.

But the company chose only one team — Peoria High School -- for the elaborate equipment gifts and visit with Manning. The company proclaimed the Lions its "Team of the Future."

Reps at Riddell had heard about Thornton's strategic approach on the field, and the fact his teams hit in practice only twice a year.

It paid off in a big way Tuesday.

"They sent a professional video crew to Peoria to shoot our field, our practice facility, talk to us about our practice methods, our training table regimen, our program support from fans," Thornton said. "We do things a little differently here than a lot of teams do."

Riddell then bused the whole group up to its headquarters, paid for breakfast and lunch, and walked the team into football equipment heaven.

"My interview with Manning happened, then we all went downstairs to where the kids and coaches were waiting," Thornton said. "They told the kids they had a surprise for them, and in came Peyton Manning, and the kids just went wild. He took pictures with and spent time with all of them.

"Then they started wheeling in stuff, and it was amazing. We can't thank them enough. This means so much to us."

They received 55 helmets — most worth $400 each, but 12 of them were Precision Fit helmets that go for $1,700 each.

Boxes of shoulder pads, 60 in all, at $300 a pop.

Girdles with fitted pads for underneath the pants, 115 in all. Pants for the freshman team. Jerseys for the games, travel bags and suits for off the field. And equipment game night operations on the field, too.

All in Peoria High School colors and logo.

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"I have to figure out where to put it all," Thornton said. "Our buses are stuffed with it. The helmets have gun metal lightning on them, seven layers of paint.

"They gave us new jerseys for the entire varsity team, and created two special jerseys for us. One week in this upcoming season, we're going to have a Throwback Night where we wear a jersey inspired by the 1952 Central team.

"A second night, we'll have a special jersey as part of an outreach to support police in our community. Half the jersey is purple, in our colors, and the other half is blue. They fade together where they meet. The Peoria Police logo is on one shoulder and the Lions logo on the other.

"The police department is going to bring squad cars to the game and line them up, and when we score, turn on the emergency lights."

Riddell also provided Peoria High with high-tech equipment it can use in practice to track the hits individual players are absorbing. And there might be a followup visit from Manning before the 2019 starts.

"This meant so much to our kids, to our program," Thornton said. "It's overwhelming. It's an unbelievable day, exciting."

That's all for Cleve In The Eve on Tuesday, April 16, 2019.

Here's your sports quote of the day:

"I cherished my time playing high school sports. ... I've been being asked about my legacy since I was about 25 years old. I'm not sure you can have a legacy when you're 25 years old. Even 37. I'd like to have to be, like, 70 to have a legacy. I'm not even 100 percent sure what the word even means."

— Peyton Manning.

Dave Eminian covers the Rivermen and Chiefs for the Journal Star, and writes the Cleve In The Eve sports column for pjstar.com. Reach him at 686-3206 or deminian@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @icetimecleve.