Many NFL players have an intriguing story concerning their journey from the days of high school football until they make it big as a professional. Denver Broncos tight end Joel Dreessen is no different, but the actual road from his humble beginnings to Dove Valley is a short one. In fact, if you have time, you can drive it yourself in about an hour and a half.
Dreessen is a native of a small town called Fort Morgan in northeastern Colorado. It’s the most populous city in Morgan County at just about 11,000 people, but most Broncos fans have only heard of it in passing, if at all. Despite the size of the stage however, Dreessen put on quite a show while playing 3A football at Fort Morgan High School in the late 1990’s.
As a senior during the fall of 1999, he led the Mustangs to a state championship and was named to the all-state football team. He lettered four times in both football and track and was an academic all-state performer as a junior and senior. Although he found success on and off the football field, the big time college recruiters failed to make the trip to Fort Morgan. Luckily for Sonny Lubick, then the head coach at Colorado State University, it was a shorter drive from Fort Collins.
Lubick was the first coach to commit to Dreessen during the recruiting process, and that was a big factor in why he was able to lure the underappreciated and talented player to CSU. Dreessen was exactly the kind of player that made Lubick’s tenure so successful despite the fact he was competing against schools with more money and better facilities. He went after players who were first and foremost high character individuals. They also had to be talented, but Lubick won primarily with blue-collar players who had something to prove. Dreessen was a perfect fit.
Dreessen found success at CSU after red-shirting his first year and committing himself to the weight room. He added some bulk and got quicker with the help of the strength coaches and he ended up starting for four seasons. During that time he was a part of three teams that qualified for a postseason bowl game including the squad that won the 2001 New Orleans Bowl championship. By the time he had finished his college career, Dreessen had caught 122 passes for 1,293 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was twice a first-team All-Mountain West Conference player and he also finished as the all-time leader at CSU for receptions by a tight end.
Dreessen went on to be drafted by the New York Jets in the sixth round of the 2005 NFL draft. He played sparingly during his one season with the Jets (although he caught his first NFL pass with them against the Broncos at Mile High during a 27-0 Denver win), but he signed on for good with the Houston Texans in 2007. The Texans are coached by ex-Bronco Gary Kubiak, and he was familiar with Dreessen from his time in Colorado.
(Kubiak) knew me a little bit from watching me at CSU. His last season in Denver was 2005; my rookie year with the Jets. I think he knew me from the scouting department doing their job and knowing who was available. I was on the street and didn’t have a job, so they took a good look at me and gave me an opportunity in January of 2007. It was crazy because I was the fifth tight end on the depth chart and they wanted me to be more of a long snapper. I wasn’t as good at snapping as they had hoped, but I was a better tight end than they were expecting. So it worked out. – Dreessen
It absolutely worked out. Joel played 5 seasons in Houston with players such as Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, and Owen Daniels. He caught 105 balls during his time there and had a season high of 36 in 2010. He also started to become more of a red zone threat last year when he scored 6 touchdowns, also a season high. It’s likely that Peyton Manning will help him improve upon those numbers in a big way when the 2012 season rolls around.
For a kid who played small time high school football, it was obviously a big transition playing college ball at CSU, and an even bigger transition going from CSU to the pro game. So how did Dreessen succeed with these big changes where countless others have failed?
It was a lot of the pressure that I put on myself. I didn’t want to let anybody down, and then there’s the competitive side of me where I always wanted to be the best I could possibly be. Even if it is a sack race against an old lady, I still want to win it. Basically, I just worked hard, and that mindset allowed me to find success. – Dreessen
There is no doubt that it takes a lot of hard work to find success at the pro level, but few realize just how big of a commitment it requires year round. One person who saw Dreessen’s NFL pursuit up close was Loren Landow, the Director of Sports Performance at Steadman Hawkins Clinic in Denver. Landow has worked extensively with Dreessen over the years, especially in preparation for the NFL Combine prior to the 2005 draft and then again in 2006 when Dreessen was looking to get picked up by another NFL team. Landow couldn’t have given a more glowing endorsement to Dreessen as a person and a player.
Joel is a coach’s dream. He’s a blue collar player who can be a playmaker. He’ll do all the little things. He’ll block, he’ll snap, he’ll catch the ball and score a touchdown, he can do it all. The thing that’s the most impressive about Joel is that he’s a perfectionist and he’s his harshest critic. What keeps a pro like Joel in the league and doing well is that he pays attention to the details. He understands he needs to fine tune his game each and every year and every offseason. – Landow
Landow and Dreessen spent the 2006 season working on making Dreessen more efficient and fluid with his route running which helped with creating separation from defenders. Landow’s workouts focused on quickness off the line of scrimmage and how to use speed, and a variation of speeds, in order to defeat the defense. Their work together obviously paid off because Houston came calling a few months later, but Landow wastes no time in crediting Dreessen’s work ethic above all else.
(Dreessen) is a bring your lunch pail to work kind of guy. He always wants to do a little bit more, he’s critical of himself, and he wants his coaches to be critical of him in a positive way. If you can show Joel in a positive way that I’m being critical of you here because I think this will make a big difference in how you play, then he’s all in. He’s absolutely coachable. – Landow
Despite the fact the Dreessen found his groove in Houston, it took the team a while to follow suit. The Texans were always chasing the Indianapolis Colts and Peyton Manning who had a stranglehold on the AFC South division for years. They didn’t win the division title until Manning missed the entire 2011 season with a neck injury. In an interesting twist, that neck injury paved the way for the Broncos to acquire Manning via free agency and now he and Dreessen are joining forces in Denver for the 2012 campaign.
First off, playing against (Peyton Manning) was so damn frustrating. I can think of 2 or 3 games where we would jump up on them 17-0 and I would think, alright, we got them; we’re going to win this game. And then, boom. All of a sudden we’re losing 21-17. During my 5 years (in Houston) I think we only beat a Peyton Manning-quarterbacked team one time. – Dreessen
Even though Manning frustrated Dreessen for years, his presence in Denver gave the Broncos a leg up on the competition when vying for Dreessen’s services this offseason.
It was a big impact. They signed him a couple days before I got signed, and it’s no secret that he makes everybody he plays with better. I’m not getting any younger and I’m looking to take my career to another level and try to be better than I’ve ever been. I had a couple conversations with him when I was in the decision making process and they were all very positive. I’m looking to be better and to advance my career, and him playing quarterback definitely helps that situation. – Dreessen
It wasn’t just Manning that brought Dreessen to Denver. After all, John Elway and John Fox didn’t need much help convincing Manning to sign on in the first place. The Denver front office carries quite a bit of weight in NFL circles, and their calm and easy going attitudes helped make a stressful decision easier for Dreessen.
I really liked them. Obviously I’ve been a huge fan of John Elway ever since I was young. Their laid back demeanor; I really appreciated that because I was in a stressful situation trying to consider all these factors with my next employer. How do I value the contract versus playing time versus staying in Texas? It was stressful for me. Their calm, laid back approach to recruiting me; I really appreciated it.
Coach Fox was especially influential because he basically said man, whatever decision you make it’s going to be the right one, we just certainly hope it’s us. But football is only fun if you win, and we think you can help us win, so that’s why we want you here. – Dreessen
The organization clearly believes that Dreessen will find success in Denver and help take them to the next level. You can count Loren Landow among that group as well.
I was excited when I heard Denver was in the mix. I thought it would be a great fit for Joel after the signing of Peyton and knowing how Peyton really highlights his tight ends and makes them a big part of the offense. I thought it would be a win-win. I know it was tough for him to leave Houston because they gave him the rebirth of his career, but to come back home to Denver and play in front of your family and friends, and to have played college ball 70 miles up the road is a pretty special feeling. I’m just excited to watch how Joel establishes himself and furthers his career while in Denver. – Landow
The fans are ready to see this new crop of players in action as well. Optimism in Broncos Country is nearing an all-time high, and the Broncos faithful can hardly contain their excitement even though the season is still several months away. Inside the locker room however, Dreessen says it’s all business.
We got work to do. We got a lot to do to prepare to be good. As far as just putting in the time, and everybody studying and getting to know their assignments and the details of every single play, but we’ve got a good group of players and we’re looking forward to getting out on the field. We’re definitely excited and have a positive attitude going into the season. – Dreessen
In regards to Dreessen’s opinion on what his role will be with the Broncos in 2012, he made it very clear that he will do anything to help the team win.
My goal is to be the best I can possibly be. If I’m asked to be the starter I’ll do it. If I’m asked to be the second tight end and play on special teams, I’ll do that too. My goal is to contribute more than I’ve ever contributed. As far as catching passes, scoring touchdowns, blocking in the running game, as far as playing special teams, I just want to contribute more. Because to me, there’s no better feeling than waking up Monday morning sore as hell (when) you get to go turn on that film in front of your teammates and say, look what I did for us, so we can feel good on this day because we won yesterday. – Dreessen
Like most people who grew up in Colorado in the 80’s and 90’s, Dreessen was raised on the Denver Broncos and John Elway. It was not unusual for fans to live and die with the team’s performance every Sunday. Because of that passion and devotion, it would be impossible for most fans in Broncos Country to forget a single detail from the magical seasons of 1997 and 1998. Dreessen is no different.
In 1997 I loved the playoff run. They started off with the wild card game at home, and they beat Jacksonville in a revenge game. Then they went on the road to Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and I can remember my buddies coming over and we’d cook Buffalo wings and watch the Broncos games and it was just so exciting.
Then my junior year in high school they were the top seed so they had two playoff games at home, and in the second game they were losing 10-0 to the Jets, and I was like oh no. I remember John Elway threw a bomb to Eddie Mac down the middle of the field, and then TD had an awesome touchdown run. And Elway took a victory lap after the game because they were going to the Super Bowl. I had snuck a video camera into the stadium and I taped my buddy high-fiving John Elway as he took his victory lap. Those are my favorite memories. – Dreessen
Not every player can say that one of their childhood idols signed their latest contract, but Dreessen tries to not get caught up in the excitement. He knows he has a job to do and that it’s time to get to it.
I’m not so much star struck; I feel an obligation to be better than I ever have. If there is someone you would want to play well for, certainly it would be your boyhood hero and your boss. Luckily I get to do that for both people now. – Dreessen
Obviously every player would love to experience the feeling of winning the Super Bowl at least once during their career, but Dreessen will be trying to do it in the uniform he grew up cheering for. That would be quite the storybook ending for a guy from Fort Morgan.
I can’t even put it into words what that would be like. But I visualize it a lot because I’m a big believer in what you think about you bring about, so I have daydreamed about that scenario. That would be the greatest feeling ever to say the least. First of all, to be on a Super Bowl winning team would be amazing in and of itself. But to help do it in Denver would be a dream come true. – Dreessen
Broncos fans everywhere couldn’t agree more. The organization and the fan base have sustained themselves for a long time on the Super Bowl wins of the past, but it’s time to write a new chapter to the history of the Broncos. Players like Joel Dreessen are exactly the type Denver needed in order to make a serious run at their next Super Bowl, and it’s going to be a whole lot of fun to watch them do it.
I would like to give a special thank you to Joel Dreessen and Loren Landow for contributing to this article.
Tags: AFC South Andre Johnson Colorado State University Denver Broncos Dove Valley Ed Mccaffrey Fort Collins Fort Morgan Gary Kubiak Houston Texans Joel Dreessen John Elway John Fox Loren Landow Matt Schaub Mile High Stadium New Orleans Bowl New York Jets Nfl Draft Owen Daniels Peyton Manning Sonny Lubick Steadman Hawkins Clinic Terrell Davis