DENVER — Wrap your head around this unusual factoid from Bronco Land.
Mitch Unrein, the 296-pound defensive tackle, once was a scrawny 128-pound wrestler at Eaton High School. I bet you could've pinned him. Almost everyone did.
“My record was 5-26,” Unrein said in a humble revelation inside the Broncos locker room. “And three of my wins were forfeits. So actually I was 2-26.”
As a freshman at Eaton, Unrein was one of the worst wrestlers in the state of Colorado.
As a lineman with the Broncos, he caught a touchdown pass from Peyton Manning.
I am trying to wrap my head around that. So is Unrein, actually.
To thousands of Broncos loyalists, Manning’s arrival and the ongoing 11-game winning streak into the NFL playoffs qualifies as a football dream. Consider what it’s like for Unrein and Joel Dreessen — the Colorado natives on this Broncos roster — to play key roles in Denver’s rise to the top of the AFC totem poll.
“I was actually just talking to Peyton about it the other day ...” Dreessen said.
I asked him to stop right there. He smiled, acknowledging guys from Fort Morgan aren’t supposed to start sentences like that.
"I know," Dreessen said. “Peyton was saying, 'This is a heck of an opportunity to keep winning games. It doesn’t come along that often like this. It’s not always like this.'"
Ever been to Eaton or Fort Morgan? I played a high school basketball game at the former (we won) and bad golf in the latter (I lost). Neither was particularly memorable, other than the banana split at the Sonic drive-through in Fort Morgan.
It took Unrein a full two years of high school to be memorable at football, three years to be memorable as a wrestler.
"(As a freshman) I couldn’t beat out our 130-pounder. I couldn’t beat out our 135-pounder.”
As a junior, he became a starter with Eaton football. Until then, Mitch was his brother’s backup. As a senior, he went 34-4 and won a state wrestling title — at 215 pounds.
"I did a complete 180," Unrein said.
The youngest of six kids, Mitch couldn’t get on the field with Eaton’s varsity until his junior year. Now he’s on a billboard pitching Weld County Garage, a Greeley auto dealership.
“If somebody says my name, they get a discount on a truck or car,” Unrein said.
Dreessen, a Colorado State grad, and Unrein, a Wyoming alum, share a unique perspective on this Broncos run. Fans might speak in the collective “we,” as though they chat daily with Manning and suit up on Sundays.
When these guys say "we," it comes from both: A fan and a player’s perspective.
Dreessen and Unrein grew up as Broncos diehards. Both are on the roster of the Super Bowl favorite. Both view their opportunities — coming from small towns on the Colorado plains to a Colorado stage in the NFL playoffs — as a gift.
"It would be an absolute dream come true to get to that Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos,” said Dreessen, a tight end who has 41 receptions and five touchdowns this season. “It couldn’t get better than that."
“I remember growing up and watching the Broncos win those two Super Bowls. I remember watching that on TV,” added Unrein, who has 20 tackles and one touchdown catch. “Never did I think I would actually have a shot to be a part of something like that, let alone be playing for the Broncos. It’s something I don’t take for granted. I thank God every day for the position I’m in.”
The lasting moment of the Broncos season probably is still to come. To this point, as a Colorado native, it is this: Unrein, a defensive tackle lining up at fullback against Tampa Bay.
"I knew we had it in (the playbook), but I didn’t think we would run it at that time, for some reason,” he said. “I thought we were going to practice it a little bit more.”
The Hall of Fame QB has 436 touchdown passes. He lofted a perfect one to Unrein, who scored his first TD since his freshman year at Eaton. Wrap your head around that.
“It (the football) is going in a glass case,” Unrein said. “Now if my kids don’t think I’m telling the truth, I can pull that out and show them when I get older.
"I’m going to have Peyton sign it.”
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