By Connor Smith
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — Isiah Pacheco remembers exactly where he was during Super Bowl XXXIX, one of his earliest Super Bowl memories: his friend’s house, watching with his late uncle. As he fantasized about playing in the game himself, he said the competition he saw inspired him.
Nearly two decades later, the Kansas City Chiefs running back will fulfill a childhood dream, taking the field in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium as one of the team’s 11 active rookie players.
“When I got here, the first thing was to make the team,” Pacheco said. “The second thing was to make the 53-man roster. The next thing was to make it to a Super Bowl.”
Last April, the Chiefs used the draft to their advantage. They had 10 selections, including Pacheco, a seventh-rounder. Including undrafted linebacker Jack Cochrane, the team’s rookie class has become a major part of its identity.
Offensively, Pacheco led the club with 830 rushing yards this regular season. Defensively, cornerbacks Jaylen Watson and Trent McDuffie finished top 10 in tackles with 49 and 44, respectively, while defensive end George Karlaftis also finished second in sacks with six.
The Super Bowl isn’t like any other game. Millions watch, halftime is longer than normal and media from around the world descend on the host city. Though some of the Chiefs’ rookies said they’re enjoying the glitz and glamour, they added they’ve remained focused and have eliminated distractions.
For Pacheco, it all starts with building a competitive mindset. He said he’s still finding ways to improve while also focusing on how he can best help his teammates.
“As rookies, we love competing,” Pacheco said. “That’s helped shape us to who we are today, and that’s brought competition into (our locker room), to eliminate distractions or people that weren’t good for the program.”
It’s a similar process for wide receiver Skyy Moore. After making the team, which he said was his initial goal, the next step was to consistently work hard and not let go of opportunities, a mentality he’s bringing into Sunday’s game.
Having multiple veterans from the team’s run to Super Bowl LIV has helped him understand the importance of hard work, he added.
“I feel like the people that are new to the moment are going to get comfortable with it very (early) in the game, and people that have been here before like Travis (Kelce) and Patrick (Mahomes) are going to help rally the team together to put us in a position to be successful,” Moore said.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones, a seven-year veteran and Super Bowl LIV champion, said he has absolute trust in his team’s rookie class. He isn’t coaching them up for the moment because he knows they have what it takes to succeed and wants them to start their own journey.
“This is Week 23 of the season,” Jones said. “I don’t think they need any more coaching or any motivation of what we need to do to win this game.”
Although the Chiefs’ rookies know what’s at stake, they’re also not forgetting how special it is to reach the Super Bowl. Like Pacheco and Moore, Watson said his team’s third appearance in four seasons reflects their determination.
“It’s what we’ve always dreamed of, and it’s here,” Watson said. “These are the times you make names for yourself, and I’m looking forward to it.”
From Andy Reid’s coaching to Mahomes’ excellence, the Chiefs found ways to maintain success this past season despite wide receiver Tyreek Hill, safety Tyrann Mathieu and other key contributors departing. However, their rookie class has also played a vital role, and these players have made sure not to take the opportunity for granted.
“It’s big,” Pacheco said. “A lot of people wish they could be in this position right now.”
Connor Smith is a sports media graduate student at Medill. You can connect with him on Instagram and LinkedIn.