As camp comes to a conclusion and we roll into the later stages of pre-season, there is one player who is impossible to miss despite the fact, he’s one of the smallest guys in his group. James Ferentz (pronounced FAIR-ins – and I make note of this because I’ve been screwing up his name all camp) wears number 53. In regualar life, being 6’2″ and 285 pounds, would never be undersized. However, in the NFL these days, that is TINY. But, there is something a tad off-kilter about this dude who day after day is proving size doesn’t matter.

Ferentz hasn’t had an easy road to the NFL. His toughness and grit have shaped his path. At Iowa, where his dad Kirk is the head coach, Ferentz was a very solid college football player starting in 38 games and being named a second-team Big 10 player. In the wild and wooly world of Midwest America football, being a tough guy comes with the territory.

If you go back a little deeper, you will see that Ferentz was a star high school wrestler. Ah, the NFL loves its wrestlers/football players. There’s are several ex-wrestlers on the Broncos right now, including starting center Matt Paradis – another over achiever.  In addition, small but dynamic special teams standout Kalif Raymond takes pride in his wrestling background, however at 5-foot-7 and 160 pounds, I’m guessing he was in another weight class.

What has been interesting to watch in camp is how Ferentz has just risen over some big-time competition to solidly a spot on this team. This guy takes no crap from nobody and often is in the middle of every disturbance. Against the 49ers there were three fights on Wednesday. Ferentz was in all three. Gary Kubiak says its the smack talk that really generates the biggest issues, so I’m guessing Ferentz is pretty lippy. There was a bad moment in the game against the Bears for Ferentz when he stupidly pushed a defender who was already down, drawing a 15 yard penalty that negated a huge play that would’ve put the Broncos at the 7-yard line. Instead it was the equivalent of a 40-yard flag. Not good. But, a dog is gonna be a dog.

I suppose when people tell you your whole life you aren’t good enough, you aren’t big enough, you aren’t going to make it, you would push back or get pushed over. It would’ve been easy for Ferentz to quit. He didn’t get drafted in 2012 after his career in Iowa and didn’t even get invited to a camp. Instead, he worked in a carpet factory and trained. This reminds you a bit of Sylvester Williams who had a problem getting his career going after high school. However, once Sly finished college he was a first-round draft choice. Ferentz was a carpet factory worker. But, who cares, right? Have you ever been to a wrestling practice? Who said anything would be easy?

His hard work paid off and eventually he was invited to join the Texans, where he was cut. However, he made an impression on Kubiak and boom he was given a shot on the Broncos as a special teams player and a goalline fullback. Ferentz played in 14 games during the Super Bowl year. The situation didn’t occur for him to play in the Super Bowl, but he was dressed and ready to go. His dad was caught at a Hawkeyes press conference getting emotional about his son’s journey. Who wouldn’t be proud of their kid who refuses to give up on his dream.

Fast forward to camp this year and what do you know? The back up center is James Ferentz. This was surprising to say the least. Many thought practice squader and bigger dude Dillon Day would get that gig. Others thought bigger dude Sam Brenner may be in line. There were intelligent people that assumed draft pick and bigger dude Connor McGovern would get tapped for that spot. Even Max Garcia played some center at Florida and shocker – he’s huge! Nope, the No. 2 center was and is James Ferentz. Keep fighting, keep fighting, keep fighting.

I suppose when you are an offensive lineman and they give you a linebacker’s number, they are saying something as well. Son, you are just a bit short of wearing one of those 70’s numbers. Ferentz wears number 53. If he’s smart, he will insist on keeping that number for as long as he’s with the Broncos. First of all, the number itself should probably be retired because it’s Randy Gradishar’s. But, let’s address that snub another time. The man that most current Broncos fans remember as the dirtiest, low down, no good, steriod-filled, rip your guts out, spit in your face and make no apologies hero wore 53. Bill Romanowski. It is in that spirit that Ferentz is keeping the 53 number tradition flowing. Romo would be proud of this legacy. There isn’t a day that goes by where Ferentz doesn’t stand out for good things or bad things. Whatever the situation, this young man’s motor doesn’t stop. He doesn’t take things for granted because no day is promised to a shrimpy offensive lineman wearing a linebacker’s number.

The number 53 also represents the amount of players that make the active roster. Trust me, Ferentz will be circling that number for as long as he plays in the NFL. He will never be a star. He will never get a huge contract. He will always be judged by his appearance as much as his play. No wonder this guy keeps fighting.