Pat Surtain II, following in his father's footsteps, exceeds expectations in first career start: 'I've always known he was ready for this moment'

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Sep. 21—Sitting in section 434 of TIAA Bank Field, Patrick Surtain Sr. waited in anticipation for his son, Broncos rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II, to make his first career start in the NFL.

For the Surtains, who had close to 30 relatives at Sunday's game in Jacksonville, football runs deep in their blood. Surtain Sr., who played cornerback for 11 NFL seasons from 1998-2008, knows what it takes to be a great player in the league.

But even dad, who has the highest expectations for his oldest of three children, was impressed by the play Surtain made early in the fourth quarter — a leaping interception 45 yards downfield on the sideline opposite of section 434.

"It was pure pandemonium up there," Surtain Sr. said. "When (Jaguars QB) Trevor (Lawrence) threw it, I knew he had good position on it and I know that he has tremendous ball skills and that was kind of in his wheelhouse. He made a tremendous play, got his feet down in bounds and that was a big play at the time because it was still 20-7."

And that play is why so many, including his father, believe Surtain is poised to have an illustrious NFL career.

"I had a great career, but I think his trajectory is off the charts," said Surtain Sr., who was a three-time Pro Bowler. "If he continues to be the person he is and puts his head down and continues to work and stay healthy, I think he could surpass me. And that's, as a dad, ultimately what you want for your child. And I'm not going to sell myself short either because I was one of the premier cornerbacks of my generation.

"But even though he has a long way to go, the potential you can see is just oozing out of him. I think he's in a perfect situation right now in Denver."

The ninth overall pick in the 2021 NFL draft, Surtain was thrown into the fire Sunday in only his second NFL game, starting in place of injured Ronald Darby. And he didn't exactly have the best start to his career a week prior, giving up a 37-yard touchdown against the Giants.

But the always calm and never rattled rookie responded against the Jaguars. He finished the game allowing only three receptions, according to Pro Football Focus.

"I was pretty comfortable," Surtain said after the game. "They ran some double moves early on that that I could fix, just fix my eyes on some of the plays. But other than that, I think we prepared throughout the week. I prepared well. Showed it in the game. ... Just going out there, doing what I need to do for the team, making plays out there. It was a tremendous feeling."

It was obvious the stage wasn't too big for Surtain.

"I've always known he was ready for this moment. I think he just needed some plays under his belt," Surtain Sr. said. "The same thing happened to him at Alabama his second game his true freshman year — they threw him out there and he started every game since. The first game against the Giants, I think he had 15 plays, but as a cornerback, you really need to get a feel for the game and everything. With him being out there the whole game, I think he got a feel for what he was trying to do and his natural abilities just took over."

There have been a lot of comparisons drawn between Surtain and his dad, and rightfully so.

Surtain Sr. started his career playing multiple positions — primarily the nickel — before permanently moving to outside corner. That appears to be the same trek Surtain is on, instead playing the dime and eventually becoming the Broncos' cornerstone at outside corner, where he played Sunday and where his dad believes he can play at a high level for "15-plus years in the league."

Surtain Sr. was an elite corner during his career, totaling 37 interceptions and 105 passes defensed, playing seven years for the Dolphins and four for the Chiefs. And, oddly enough, also had his first interception in Week 2 of his rookie season — intercepting Buffalo's Rob Johnson.

The comparisons aren't going away any time soon, as it'll likely be mentioned on every Broncos broadcast this season and be written about in stories like this one throughout Surtain's career. But for Surtain Sr., all he wants is for his son to have his own football journey.

"Early on, especially his rookie year, that's going to be brought up a lot because of the connection, the same name and me being successful in the NFL," Surtain Sr. said. "But I think over a period of time it's going to stop because people are going to say he's his own guy, their games are similar in some ways, but Pat's longer, he's faster, and he has the tools and skills to be an all-time great. It gets tiresome at times because I want him to trail a path of his own and I think he eventually will."

It's clear Surtain Sr. has been a big part of his son's success, coaching him at American Heritage High School. He's taught his son how to be a professional from the moment he started playing, and it's paid dividends.

In many ways, he's been a sounding board for his son, who's facing many of the same obstacles his dad faced 24 years ago.

"With him being the No. 1 cornerback coming out of high school and going to Alabama and just the pressure of being a top-10 pick at corner — the expectations are really, really high," Surtain Sr. said. "People expect him to be great Day 1. And, you know, playing in the league as a cornerback, it takes time because those receivers are world class and you're going to have your ups and downs. I just told him, like his teammates did, be yourself and most importantly have fun. I just want him to have fun. Don't worry about the other things because the cerebral part of the game, he has that down.

"And he handles himself like a pro even though he's only 21 years old because he's been brought up the right way, he's been coached the right way. His demeanor, his attitude and his wanting to be great, I think will go a long way with him and I'm excited to see what the future holds for him because I think it's really, really bright."

It's only been two games, but Surtain Sr. is likely right — Surtain's future is bright.

And whether Surtain Sr. likes it or not, that's a credit to him, who has taught his son the importance of continuing the family legacy.

"There's no better feeling in the world," Surtain Sr. said. "Like I said, I know I had a great career, but as a parent, you want better for your kids and to see him have the type of success he's had throughout high school, college and just bearing that name and everything that comes with it, the expectation that comes along with it, he's handled it like a pro. And he's going to continue to do that."

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