Andy Janovich has no idea he’s a rock star.
He’s learning of the love affair Broncos fans have with fullbacks.
He’s realizing Howard Griffith "was kind of a big deal" in Dove Valley.
But he’s practically oblivious to "the legend of Andy Janovich" or to the expectations that he could be the Second Coming of "The Human Plow."
He certainly doesn’t know that he also is becoming "kind of a big deal" in Denver.
"I have noticed people really love having a fullback in the offense," the former University of Nebraska player says, somewhat in disbelief.
But the 6-foot-1, 238-pounder also noticed that he’s being called upon to play a big role in Gary Kubiak’s offense, having played almost half the snaps so far.
Maybe it’s his Midwestern upbringing that won’t allow Janovich to read too much into his popularity here.
Maybe it’s being the eighth of nine kids and understanding never to take anything for granted.
Maybe it’s being from the University of Nebraska - the land where pro-level fullbacks are bred - and knowing there is always someone else coming up ready to play.
Whatever it is, Jano doesn’t care about being a big deal.
He cares about playing a big game.
And hitting hard.
He loves hitting hard.
And as he reminds me, if he didn’t like hitting, he wouldn’t be any good at the position.
"I wanted to be a linebacker in high school," he says. "On offense you’re always going to get hit but on defense you get to go out and do the hitting. That’s why I like playing fullback so much."
And that’s the true hallmark of a quality fullback - hard hitting, every play.
Where the other positions measure success by big numbers – rushing yards, receiving yards, completed passes, number of sacks, number of tackles – the fullback’s truest measure of success is whether other people in the offense perform well.
PFF gives Janovich highest marks
Although Janovich’s own stats are already impressive, having notched a 28-yard touchdown run the first game of the season, he is more interested in his effectiveness hitting the bad guys.
"Just how well I block … how far can I move the linebacker away from the hole? How well did the run work? How good was my position on the block?" Janovich says of his barometers for success. "If I don’t do my job, C.J. might get hit in the backfield."
So far, Janovich has been doing his job pretty well.
Top 10 rookies through NFL Week 3— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) September 30, 2016
10. Andy Janovich, FB, Broncos
9. Jatavis Brown, LB, Chargers
Full rankings: https://t.co/pAjN8ktipi pic.twitter.com/MO2SigHFvF
Repeatedly making key blocks in the creases against some of the more accomplished linebackers in the league, No. 32 has been a big reason behind Anderson’s big numbers so far, including his 92 yards against the Panthers and 74 against the Colts, plus four rushing touchdowns through Week 4.
Pro Football Focus agrees, grading Janovich the third best rookie in the league after his Week 1 performance and 10th best after Week 3:
"I know the chances of a fullback winning Rookie of the Year ended a few decades ago, but it’s worth giving Janovich his due for as dominant of a performance as you’ll see from a fullback in the league today. He was forced to take on Panthers LB Thomas Davis in the hole multiple times, and handily won the interactions between the two."
PFF noted that Janovich – which they have as the top fullback in the NFL overall – made a name for himself immediately with his touchdown run in Week 1 "but his blocking alone puts him on the list of top 10 rookies in the league right now. He’s keyed many big runs already this season."
And for his Week 4 performance against the Buccaneers, Janovich received the Bronco offense’s best grade - 88.2 - and his second-best grade this season. In fact, the rookie has been among the offense’s top-graded players by PFF every week.
‘Be ready to play’
But still, Janovich doesn’t see the big deal. To him, this is what he’s been brought here to do. Kubiak told the young bulldozer when he was drafted that the coach expected his new fullback to be ready to play.
So that’s exactly what Janovich has been doing ever since.
Don't look now, but FB Andy Janovich is Denver Broncos' impact rookie - https://t.co/0LCl9g6AQC— NFL Huskers (@NFLHuskers) September 17, 2016
And when he busted out the 28-yard touchdown run against the Panthers, No. 32 thought practically nothing of it. His first NFL touchdown, and he handed the ball back to the ref.
It was the guy he blocks for who recovered it for Janovich.
"When he finally gets a big run, it’s huge," said running back C.J. Anderson. "He just tossed the ball to the ref, but I was like, ‘That’s your first touchdown.’ I had to run out there and get the ball and give it back to him. I was excited for him."
‘I’ll work my butt off’
The fact that Janovich was even drafted was a surprise to the Gretna, Neb., native. Getting invited to the NFL Combine in February had been a big deal, but most teams who were interested mentioned bringing him in as an undrafted free agent.
So Janovich didn’t even watch the draft. He had actually planned to go turkey hunting that day but changed his mind at the last minute and drove to his parents. On the way, he got a flat tire, so while his dad watched the draft inside, Janovich changed a tire in the shed.
When his phone rang with an unknown 303 number, the soon-to-be Bronco was secretly hopeful the call was coming from Dove Valley’s war room.
Janovich’s father heard the announcement on TV before his son could come in and tell him. "The Broncos kept me on the phone for 20 minutes to do some radio interview," says Janovich, laughing. "I couldn’t even go in and tell my parents."
While Janovich was likely letting his siblings, friends and girlfriend Madison McConkey know he was headed West, Broncos Country was already abuzz.
Drafted in the sixth round – 176th overall – Janovich’s pick was evidence to Broncos fans that this would be the year of the Kubiak offense.
Having Peyton Manning at the helm when Kubiak took over as head coach the year before dictated a modified offensive approach, but with a new quarterback to train and a bull-dozing fullback on the roster, the signs were clear – this will be a running offense, and a true fullback will be a key addition.
.@AndyJanovich doing what Jano does.#ProBigRed hits NFL Rookie Camps.— Nebraska Huskers (@Huskers) May 18, 2016
: https://t.co/zkCI8ThMiT pic.twitter.com/gGdQjUz8i4
In his first news conference after rookie minicamp, Janovich noted the "dying breed of fullbacks" while promising "to work my butt off" to make the team.
Not only did Janovich make the 53, he’s made it onto the playing field for every game, playing nearly half the snaps and becoming a huge contributor.
But that really is nothing new for the fullback. After all, "the Legend of Andy Janovich" didn’t come out of nowhere:
When defenses load the box, Janovich admires the target rich environment.
When Andy Janovich falls out of a boat, the water gets Janoviched.
Andy Jonovich's balls can make cold water shrink.
When Janovich gets the ball, defenses tackle themselves.
Jano hits linebackers so hard their future children will have black eyes
Death once had a near Janovich experience. Death still won't talk about it.
Or as a CornNation writer said, "If Andy were on Naked and Afraid, he’d grab a club, stay naked, and the animals would be afraid."
Legend or not, Janovich has definitely earned this social media lore.
It was just over a year ago that Janovich had a breakout game against Southern Miss, earning the envy of every college fullback as he busted out the longest run (25 yards) by a Nebraska fullback since 2004 and the longest pass reception (53 yards) by a Nebraska fullback since 1979.
"The play prompted TV analyst Rocky Boiman to say, "I can see it now: 'Andy Janovich for President.' That's going to be the T-shirt around Nebraska," wrote AP reporter Eric Olsen.
Cornhuskers always the goal
Janovich’s path to fullback started his sophomore year in high school when he wasn’t good enough to beat out the four running backs ahead of him on the roster. As a starting linebacker, the coach put him at fullback too.
He was good.
It's alright Carolina...... I couldn't stop him either. Dude is a beast pic.twitter.com/8vtd4CMQ0H— Michael Wickham (@elmagicoblanco) September 9, 2016
Janovich rushed for 799 yards and 18 touchdowns as a senior, while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. On defense, he led Gretna in tackles with 112 and finished with eight tackles for loss. As a side project, he was also state wrestling champion his junior and senior years.
"The goal was always Nebraska football," says Janovich.
And anyone who knows anything about Nebraska football knows every kid in the Cornhusker State grows up dreaming more of playing in Lincoln on Saturdays than on TV Sundays.
So Janovich followed his dream and walked on at Nebraska. He didn’t start the first three games, but the next 11 he became a regular contributor and earned his way to a scholarship spot the next three years.
His sophomore and junior years were quiet – something Cornhusker fans attribute to "The Beck Effect," which refers to former Nebraska coach Tim Beck’s approach of changing from what is working in order to throw off an opponent. (Janovich chuckles at this and says, "yeah, kinda.")
But again, it didn’t matter to Jano because he realized a niche on special teams by being a big hitter. Then with a new coach and new approach his senior year, Janovich found himself an integral part of the Cornhusker offense.
In his senior year, Janovich had 265 rushing yards and averaged an impressive 6.3 yards per carry. He scored three rushing touchdowns and caught two passes for 58 yards, including a 53-yarder. Janovich was also Nebraska’s leader in special teams tackles with 13 total, 11 solo.
Time to work
So while getting drafted by Denver was a dream come true (his favorite pro player was the great Peyton Manning), once the reality of being in the NFL and joining the Super Bowl champs set in, it was time to get to work.
Because that’s what you do when you’re from Nebraska and you play football. Especially when you play fullback.
"I really wanted to make [the team], so I was out there working my butt off every day, trying to prove I belonged," Janovich said.
.@NFL Andy Janovich. Made a Pro Bowl LB look silly, had ST tackle, helped Denver rush for 148 yards and 2 TDs, including his 28-yard score.— Jon Heath (@JonHeathNFL) September 13, 2016
The rookie was even given the nickname "Hammerhead" by one of the hardest-hitting defenses in the NFL - further proof that the legend is for real.
"I was just walking by and Brandon Marshall said, ‘here comes Hammerhead,’" Janovich recalls of the nickname. "I don’t know if he was making fun of me or what, but I’m definitely willing to go in there and hit."
As the Broncos prepare for the Atlanta Falcons this coming week, Janovich will do what he always does – study the linebackers he’s facing and come up with a plan for how to hit them.
And hit them hard.
Then he’ll look forward to Thursday’s practice the most when he can put on the pads and go to work.
"We take all the technique and put it together – footwork, angles - and then just get in there," Janovich says. "I bury my head into a linebacker and see what I can do."
If after four games of being a major factor behind the improvement of this Broncos’ offense, Janovich still doesn’t realize he’s kind of a big deal - he’s likely the only one.