Isiah Pacheco just stared at his cell phone, wishing it would ring.
Back in April, sitting in the Double Eagle Saloon, a local sports bar in Vineland, Pacheco anxiously awaited a call from any team that wanted him in the NFL Draft.
The Kansas City Chiefs contacted him.
Now, Pacheco will be playing in the nation’s biggest game.
More:Kansas City, here comes “Pop” Pacheco: Chiefs select Vineland native in NFL Draft
The Vineland native and the rest of the Chiefs punched their ticket to Super Bowl LVII on Sunday with a 23-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship on Sunday.
Pacheco, known as “Pop” in these parts of Cumberland County, will be the team’s starting running back when the Chiefs face the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 13 in the Big Game, which will be held in Glendale, Arizona.
South Jersey has had 33 players compete in the Super Bowl. Pacheco and Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick will be Nos. 34 and 35. Pacheco will be the second player from Vineland, joining Los Angeles Rams offensive lineman Jamil Demby, who played in Super Bowl LIII.
Pacheco rushed 10 times for 26 yards and caught five passes for 59 yards against the Bengals in the conference title game. He had a touchdown called back because of a Chiefs’ holding penalty.
It’s been a whirlwind nine months for Pacheco, who was anxiously awaiting to hear his named called at the NFL Draft in April. The 5-10, 215-pound running back had to wait until the seventh round when the Kansas City Chiefs made the call to his cell phone.
After sweating it out at the draft, Pacheco became a fan favorite in training camp as he worked his way up the depth chart.
Pacheco played in all 17 regular-season games for the Chiefs, earning 11 starts. He rushed for 830 yards (4.9 average per carry) with five touchdowns and caught 13 passes for 130 yards. He was a major contributor on special teams, handling the majority of kickoff returns.
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Pacheco’s star has been on a steady rise, especially after running for 95 yards in his postseason debut against Jacksonville, which advanced the Chiefs into the conference title game.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment my whole life,” Pacheco told the media last week before the AFC Championship. “So for me to continue to be myself and go out there and follow our leaders and take it play by play and let the game come to me.”
Pacheco pointed to the veteran leaders on the team, guys who have played in high-stakes games before, to help him adjust on the fly.
“It’s Jerik (McKinnon), Travis (Kelce) and Pat (Mahomes), and the whole offensive line,” Pacheco said. “The guys who have been here before me and they’ve been in this situation. Those are the guys that I look up to and learn from. Learning from the has helped me overcome the game by playing so fast. For me to just continue to be patient and learn from my mistakes. It’s important for me to take those mistakes and learn from them.”
Pacheco was a four-year captain with the Vineland Fighting Clan, rushing for over 3,100 yards and passing for more than 1,400 in his career.
Pacheco went on to star at Rutgers where he rushed for 2,442 yards, which stands seventh on the Scarlet Knight’s all-time list. As a senior, he was a team captain and was an All-Big Ten honorable mention selection.
Tom McGurk is a regional sports editor for the Courier-Post, The Daily Journal and Burlington County Times, covering South Jersey sports for over 30 years. If you have a sports story that needs to be told, contact him at (856) 486-2420 or email email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @McGurkSports. Help support local journalism with a digital subscription.
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