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Isiah Pacheco looks to cap improbable rookie season at Super Bowl LVII



Jan 29, 2023; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco (10) runs the ball against Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Zach Carter (95) and linebacker Germaine Pratt (57) and linebacker Logan Wilson (55) during the second half of the AFC Championship game at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Former Rutgers star Isiah Pacheco has the opportunity to play a major role for the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. That reality highlights what an amazing rookie season the Vineland, New Jersey native has had. To say many people, even the most loyal Rutgers fans, saw this coming would be a major stretch.

“Seventh-round pick,” said Pacheco when asked about his mindset at Super Bowl LVII Opening Night earlier this week. “For me, I’m just blessed to have the opportunity. Once I had the opportunity, it was, ‘What do I do now that I have the opportunity?’ And that was just “work.” I love competing. Like my dad says, ‘Just keep working hard, son. Be the leader you are and it will show.’ That’s exactly what I have done.”

In the AFC Championship, Pacheco led the Chiefs with 130 all-purpose yards highlighted by career high 59 receiving yards on 5 catches. In the divisional round against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pacheco ran for 95 yards on 12 carries for 7.9 yards per rush. That included a 39 yard run that set up a Chiefs touchdown with quarterback Patrick Mahomes out with an injury. He added one catch on one target for 6 yards to total 101 all-purpose yards in his NFL playoff debut.

While Pacheco impressed the Chiefs and their fan base in training camp, he began the season as a backup. In four of the first six games of the season, Pacheco only had three or less carries. He only had double digit carries in two of his first eight games. However, he ran for 82 yards on 16 carries in November against the Jaguars. The next week against the Chargers, Pacheco produced his first 100 yard game. He ran for 107 yards on a 7.1 yards per carry average and never looked back.

“I’ve continuously picked one thing to learn from the older guys when it comes to their routines and taking care of their bodies,” said Pacheco. “I’m a running back so I get hit a lot, so I gotta take care of my body. Asking Pat [Mahomes] and Trav [Kelce], the guys who’ve been playing games or know the ins and outs of this game and how to be successful, I pick those guys’ brains so I have a great way to be successful in this game.”

His coachability and willingness to work hard was something that Rutgers head coach Greg Schiano told Jerry Izenberg this week made him special.

“How many kids have I coached during my career? I coached a lot of tough ones, but he is absolutely one of the five toughest,” Schiano said. “And beyond that, he is the hardest practice player I ever coached. He actually made himself into what he became. He had a few fine runs that first year, but I didn’t learn much about him because it was the year of Covid. But the summer before his senior season, I noticed him in the weight room all the time.

Pacheco applied the same mindset when he joined the Chiefs this past summer.

“That’s when you go into the classroom and ask your coaches, ‘What do you think I need to work on?’” Pacheco said. “For me, I evaluate myself a lot, so I pick one or two things I need to get better at on the game that I played or the previous game to help me to get better at the next one.”

In his rookie season, Pacheco ran for 830 yards on 170 carries and 5 touchdowns. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry. He also had 13 catches for 130 receiving yards, averaging 10.0 yards per reception. In addition, he had 29 kickoff returns for a total of 597 yards and 20.6 yards per return average. Pacheco finished the regular season with 1,557 all-purpose yards in 17 games. After being selected in the seventh round of the NFL Draft, Pacheco proved the Chiefs right in giving him the opportunity they did.

“He’s got a tremendous amount of energy,” coach Andy Reid said this week. “Loves to play the game. He’s smart. We ask the running backs to do quite a bit in the run game and the pass game and protections. So he has handled all that, done it well. But most of all, he is that Energizer Bunny guy. He’s got endless energy. You see it when he’s on the field playing. You see it at practice. That’s who he is.”

“He has a lot of energy and a lot of juice,” veteran Chiefs running back Jerick McKinnon told ahead of Sunday’s showdown with the Philadelphia Eagles. “We were playing one game, and he kind of got burped on the sideline; somebody got him good. He popped straight up, sprinted right back to the huddle. Everybody on the sideline just looked like, this dude is wired different. He’s wired different.”

McKinnon, added, “He’s a dog, man. Every time he touches the ball, he’s electric with it.”

“He has all the talent in the world,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said during Super Bowl LVII Opening Night. “We keep putting him in there, and he keeps producing. He’ll be a main staple for this team for a long time, and hopefully, he can be a main staple in this Super Bowl, too.”

Thought it all, Pacheco has kept it all in perspective.

“It’s a blessing for me to be here, for the position I’m in,” Pacheco said. “Most rookies, seventh-round picks, probably home right now. To be here at the Super Bowl, the journey, the hard work I’ve put in, it’s all paid off, but the job is not done.”

His hard running style and relentless effort has impressed perhaps the most important group on the Chiefs. Veteran offensive lineman Andrew Wylie raved about Pacheco’s ability this week.

“I love blocking for Pacheco,” Wylie told “He runs angry. So, you’re really trying to give it all you’ve got, giving him however much space he needs to get through the line because you never know if he’s going to pop off that block or not. He’s a really hard guy to tackle with an arm tackle, so we just try to get him through the line to the end zone.”

The irony of playing in his first Super Bowl is that Pacheco was a Philadelphia Eagles fan growing up in South Jersey. Now he’s tasked with beating them on Sunday for the title. When Pacheco became a fan of the Eagles, their head coach was Andy Reid.

“And now Coach Reid is on the Chiefs and I’m on the Chiefs?” Pacheco said. “To be able to be a part of this … I’m truly blessed.”

Pacheco has over a dozen friends and family attending the Super Bowl on Sunday.

“Some of them grew up Eagles fans,” he joked. “But we’re not going for the Eagles (on Sunday).”

As for a further Rutgers connection on the Chiefs, Pacheco is teammates with fullback Michael Burton, who played on the banks from 2011-2014. He’s in his ninth year in the NFL and second with the Chiefs.

“It’s so special to have two Rutgers guys,” Pacheco told Ryan Dunleavy of the NY Post. “He’s shown me the brotherhood. It feels like I’ve been playing with him for years, and it’s our first year together.”

“We talk about how cool it is to represent New Jersey pride,” said Burton. “We didn’t cross paths, but we both played for Coach [Greg] Schiano and we can swap stories.”

Burton told Dunleavy that he endorsed Pacheco to the Chiefs before they even drafted him last spring.

“I told [our staff] prior to drafting him, ‘Look, this kid is legit. This kid can play. You are going to love his character and energy,’ so I was just so pumped they were able to make it happen,” Burton said. “What he’s done as a rookie, I’m not totally surprised because I watched him play in the spring a little bit when I would go back and visit when I was injured.”

Burton and Pacheco are the 24th and 25th players from Rutgers to advance to the Super Bowl. They also now make it 19 Rutgers players coached by Greg Schiano to play in football’s biggest game.

As for how Pacheco wants to be remembered for at Rutgers, his desire was simple.

“I wanted to be remembered as a player,” Pacheco said on Monday. “I didn’t want to be remembered as a number.” He continued, “I could have gone somewhere else and transferred and just been a number. I wanted to be remembered as a leader at Rutgers who stuck there and fought through adversity and did whatever I had to do to allow my teammates to trust me.”

Pacheco was easy to root for during his Rutgers career. Overcoming so much adversity in his life including having two siblings murdered made him admirable before even gaining a yard as a Scarlet Knight. However, the way he ran hard on the field and represented Rutgers in such a positive way throughout his career made him a fan favorite. He never played on a winning team at RU, but he was always a winning player.

Pacheco has proven that all he needed was an opportunity in order to help an NFL team. He ended up in a great organization and he’s flourished ever since. It’s a credit to him that he was ready to excel at the pro level right away. Super Bowl Sunday will be a chance to shine on the game’s biggest stage and hopefully cap his rookie season with a championship. Every Rutgers fan will be rooting hard for him, even if some are Eagles fans. That’s how likeable Pacheco is.

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