It was four months ago and just a preseason game, but Worcester’s Isaac Yiadom’s voice still rises with excitement and is filled with pride when he thinks about his welcome-to-the-NFL moment.
The Denver Broncos were opening their exhibition slate at home against the Minnesota Vikings, and as the rookie cornerback from Worcester ran out of the tunnel and onto the lush green turf, he looked up at the sea of orange capped by a crystal blue sky at Mile High Stadium.
And, then, it hit him.
“Everything was just crazy,” Yiadom said Thursday via phone from the Broncos’ training facility in Englewood, Colorado. “The whole environment, it was just like, ‘Damn, your dream is really here. You’re in the NFL now.’ ”
Yiadom (pronounced yeah-dum) led Doherty High to the Division 4 state title as a senior in 2013 and went on to become a three-year starter at Boston College, where he helped the Eagles earn three bowl berths.
The Broncos drafted the 6-foot-1, 190-pound Yiadom in the third round (99th overall) in April after he had strong showings at the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.
So far the experience has been just what he’d thought it would be — demanding, exciting and rewarding.
“It’s a grind, but it’s everything I expected and everything I dreamed of,” Yiadom, 22, said. “It’s a lot of work, but on Sundays, it’s obviously a great opportunity to go out there and play against a bunch of these players I watched growing up. So it’s been exciting.”
Like the vast majority of rookies, game days have provided opportunities that range from none to some to numerous.
Yiadom has appeared in 10 straight games since being a healthy scratch in Weeks 1 and 2, making 15 tackles for the 6-6 Broncos, winners of three straight.
He has been a regular contributor on special teams, embracing the experience while playing nearly 40 percent of the snaps — or eighth-most on the team — as a member of the kick coverage, punt coverage and punt return units.
“At the end of the day, I know if I can dominate on special teams, I can play in the league for a long time,” Yiadom said. “Everybody always needs someone who is going to go 100 percent on special teams because it’s just as important as offense and defense. You go down there and make a play at gunner or make a play on kickoff, it means a lot, and it pays off.”
Defense has been more of an on-off-and-on experience.
Yiadom played 31 snaps (43.1 percent) at cornerback in his NFL debut, a loss to the Ravens at Baltimore in Week 3. But he was limited to a collective 41 snaps over the next seven games.
It was all about waiting his turn and being ready when it came.
“I mean, that’s how it is at every single level,” Yiadom said. “I just try to stay prepared every single week even if I’m not playing or not on the sideline because you never know what’s going to happen.
“And it helped me out because that one time somebody goes down or they need me to come in for a play I’m going to know what to expect and not go out there lost.”
That time came each of the past two weeks.
Yiadom played 23 snaps in a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver two weeks ago, soaking up the reps available following the release of fellow corner Adam Jones.
He saw his expected workload increase substantially after starter Chris Harris Jr. fractured his fibula last week in a win over the Bengals at Cincinnati, playing a career-high 58 snaps (85.3 percent).
“I’ve just been waiting patiently for my time to come, and I’ve gotten an opportunity to finally get a chance to play,” Yiadom said. “I’ve just tried to make the most of that opportunity.”
The Steelers repeatedly targeted and tested Yiadom, which is standard procedure for just about any rookie. Same goes for the Bengals.
Yiadom relished the challenge, which he took on with complete confidence and an approach that combined his trademark physicality with sound fundamentals. And by all accounts out of Denver, he held up well.
“For sure,” Yiadom said. “Come on now, I’m a Worcester kid — gotta hold my ground.”
And his voice, just like it was recalling the first time he stepped on an NFL field, was justifiably flush with excitement and pride.
—Contact Rich Garven at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG.