Peace of mind
Broncos' Lelie credits offseason 'R&R' on Caribbean islandPosted: Friday August 08, 2003 1:14 AM
He isolated himself on a Caribbean island.
With no television and waves lapping against the shore as his only distraction, Lelie spent the weekend before training camp thinking about nothing but football.
"I just had to go clear my mind," Lelie said. "We had the whole offseason to party and think about everything, and I wanted to just get my mind focused on just football. In the years before I put football first, but I didn't really put all my energy into it."
It's already paying off.
Lelie has arguably been the star of training camp the first three weeks, making spectacular catches almost daily. Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey are listed as Denver's starters, but Lelie is clearly the future.
"Catches nobody thinks he can make, he's making," Broncos strong safety Kenoy Kennedy said. "Even sometimes DBs are getting their hands on the ball and he's finding some way to hang onto it."
The Broncos had high expectations for Lelie after drafting him out of Hawaii in the first round last year. But it was running back Clinton Portis who garnered all the attention last season.
Portis, Denver's second-round pick, became a starter early in the season and went on to become the NFL's offensive Rookie of the Year after he rushed for 1,508 yards. Meanwhile, Lelie struggled with the complexity of the pro offense and with no longer being the star of his team.
"Being the man in college, then coming into the NFL and starting from the bottom and not really making plays in the beginning, my confidence was really low," Lelie said.
All it took was one reception to get Lelie going.
Late in close game with New England on Oct. 27, the Broncos needed to convert on third-and-8 to keep the Patriots from getting the ball back. Instead of looking for the sure-handed McCaffrey or tight end Shannon Sharpe, quarterback Brian Griese told Lelie the ball was coming his way.
Lelie caught the pass and turned it into a 40-yard gain, helping the Broncos salt away a 24-16 win.
That one play boosted Lelie's confidence and gave the Broncos' coaching staff faith that he could make plays in crucial moments.
"Once I started to get into the flow of things and coach started gaining confidence in me, then I started gaining confidence in myself and I started making plays," Lelie said.
He sure did.
Lelie caught his first career touchdown pass against the New York Jets on Dec. 8, then had the first 100-yard receiving game two weeks later against Oakland. He finished with 35 receptions -- the most by a Broncos rookie since Terrell Davis had 49 in 1995 -- for 525 yards and two touchdowns.
"Some guys step up and other guys don't. He's stepped up," Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan said.
But he's not through.
As the Caribbean Sea sifted sand through his toes that weekend at the beach, Lelie looked back at his rookie season. He thought back to the parties after he left Hawaii and the times during the season when he worried about having more time for himself.
It was then that Lelie decided to put all of his energy into football.
"When I went down to the Caribbean, I actually got to thinking to myself that I'm only going to be able to play this game for maybe five or six years, if I'm healthy," Lelie said. "I told myself to just give it the best five or six years I've got and I can go party all I want for the rest of my life."