ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It's 5.7 miles from where Phillip Lindsay played high school football to Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Up Interstate 25, it’s practically a straight line between his past and what he hopes will be his future.
Lindsay, a rookie running back, thinks a lot about “the line.” The one he believes will get him from here to there, the one that can be the shortest distance between two points.
“You’re going to go through trials and tribulations in your life, but can you stay on that line to do the right things and get where you want to go,” Lindsay said. “Can you get back on the line if you veer off sometimes? That’s what it’s all about. Can you get back and stay on that line? Even when it’s hard? That’s everything to me."
Like so many in the league this week, Lindsay wants that line to carry him through 4 p.m. ET on Saturday on the Broncos’ active roster. By that time, rosters must go from 90 players to 53, and Lindsay will be sweating out the rest of the week, like all the other players on the bubble.
But he also is unlike many other hopefuls.
Because Lindsay went to high school in Denver -- South High School -- played at the University of Colorado and now, after having at least 10 teams express interest in him as an undrafted player this past April, he is attempting to stick with the team that filled his family’s Sundays each season. Lindsay is the first athlete from the Denver Broncos' Futures Program -- for middle school football players -- to sign an NFL contract, and he would certainly be the first to play for the Broncos in a regular-season game if he sticks. Undersized, undrafted and undaunted, still on his line and moving to where he wants to be.
“Phillip is phenomenal,” Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said. “ ... He's just one of those special guys, and everyone on the team knew he was special, not just the coaches. He was a great leader. ... He left a legacy for guys to have the voice and understanding of what it takes to be successful.
"He taught our running backs a lot; those kids are stepping up, and they're really excited about what Phillip Lindsay is doing. Sometimes when you get all the hype and pub, guys on the team kind of resent you; I think that's true of life. Nobody resented Phillip Lindsay. I think they saw his humility and understand what it takes to be a humble leader.”
Sixteen players have competed in a game at the high school, college and NFL levels in Colorado. Lindsay would be the 17th, but also unique as a Denver Public Schools player and an in-state college player to begin his NFL career in a Broncos uniform.
As a former prep star who owns the Denver Public League career rushing record, he overcame a torn ACL as a high school senior only to leave Boulder years later as the Buffaloes’ all-time leader in all-purpose yards (5,760) and yards from scrimmage (4,683). Indeed, his story is one that is fresh on the minds of those following the Friday night lights in Colorado.
And he slept on the couch in his parents’ home at times this offseason.
“So, it might be a little different for him than some others,” said Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who both played and coached at the University of Colorado and was in a Broncos training camp himself as a player in 1997. “A lot of people know him or feel like they know him.”
It means more in the Lindsay home, too.
“We always watched Broncos games, always; it’s been a big part of our lives,” Lindsay said. “But just in general, there’s always pressure if you’re going to compete, so in that way, I’m just the same as any other undrafted free agent trying to make the team. All I care about is making my state proud, my parents, my family proud. That’s all I’m here to do."
It’s why, when Lindsay wasn’t invited to the league’s scouting combine, when he wasn’t selected in the draft’s seven rounds, there were many who had never met him in his home city or state who took it personally. Because Lindsay was one of their own, one of them.
And now, the Broncos see it too.
“Phillip Lindsay? He’s got that look," veteran Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “Like he knows what he wants to do, what he needs to do. He understands you make every play count because your margin for error isn’t what others guys might be. But I think what I said before is going to be true."
And Marshall said Lindsay would be the Broncos’ third-down back in the season to come.
In the first week of training camp.
And now, less than two weeks until the first game, Lindsay’s line is coming so close to his vision. The 5-foot-8, 180-pound dreamer is squarely in the mix to be in uniform when the Broncos open the regular season against the Seattle Seahawks. He is second on the team in rushing in the preseason with 70 yards -- behind fellow rookie Royce Freeman’s 84. He also is fourth in receiving, has returned two punts to go with three kickoff returns and has played on coverage units on special teams.
And in Friday night’s preseason game at the Washington Redskins -- in what was the starters’ final appearance in the preseason -- Lindsay was in the lineup for the first third-down play of the game. His performance has shown that he is more than a local, feel-good story.
“He is a good football player, he is earning his right to be here, and that’s what you want,” Joseph said. “He’s earning his way. It won’t be given to him, and it shouldn’t be, but he is a guy that’s earned his way. If you know Phillip, [hometown pressure] doesn’t bother him. He is pretty focused."
“If I just keep being myself, giving all I have to give, giving everything I’ve got, that is all I can do,” Lindsay said. “Before high school, I just focused on high school; in college, I focused on college; and now I’m here and I just want to make the most of it all. I’m trying to get a job, just like everybody. Just trying to do the right things and get a job. It’s just humbling to be a part of it.”