Ryan Izzo wears one bright yellow bracelet on each of his wrists.
The bands, given to him by Florida State chaplain Clint Purvis, bear the message: “Go ’Noles. Go Jesus. Blessed.”
The last part of that pronouncement particularly resonated with the 23-year-old Vernon native and Pope John alum when he made his first career NFL start at tight end for the New England Patriots on Sunday night football against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 8.
“It was amazing,” Izzo said in a telephone interview following Week 1. “I felt really blessed with that opportunity to be able to go out and play alongside just about everybody. I was really excited for the opportunity to be able to go out there and go have fun.”
The memories did not end there.
Izzo also reeled in his first career catch — a 3-yard reception from Tom Brady — in the third quarter of the the Pats’ 33-3 victory over the Steelers.
After being drafted by the Patriots in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Izzo was sidelined for the entirety of last season after suffering a high ankle sprain in the second week of the preseason against the Philadelphia Eagles.
With the retirement of Rob Gronkowski and Benjamin Watson suspended for the first four weeks of the season due to a failed drug test, Izzo worked his way to the top of the depth chart for Week 1.
And then Brady called on No. 85, and he made the play.
“Playing with Tom Brady, it’s awesome, man. Sometimes it’s surreal in the beginning, but you put the work, do all of your day-to-day stuff and you’re expected to play at that standard.”
Izzo, who played in 28 games across his final three seasons for the Seminoles, looked at his injury-derailed rookie season as a form of a red-shirt and made the most of it.
“It was tough because, of course, you want to suit up and you want to play,” Izzo said. “That’s what you work so hard for. I tried to keep a positive mindset.
″ … I tried to get stronger, tried to get faster and last year was a good year for me.”
Izzo said he was healthy by the eighth week of last season and was able to focus on weight and speed training, run routes and soak in some of the finer details of being an NFL tight end during film study alongside Gronkowski.
“Being able to see the little things he does on a day-to-day basis, a lot of detail like footwork,” Izzo said, “it’s always beneficial having somebody who plays at that level in your room, being able to see him every day.”
Izzo played 30 snaps (42% of the team’s plays) in Week 2 against Miami. He is questionable for this week’s matchup against the New York Jets with a calf injury.
As the seventh Sussex County player to be drafted into the NFL, Izzo said he appreciates the wave of support that has come from the community.
With only two NFL games under his belt, Izzo has continued to work to achieve the same high standards that he set for himself at Pope John and Florida State.
“It’s a grind on a day-to-day basis,” Izzo said. “Everything around here is earned. Every day I’m coming in with a clean slate and just trying to earn my spot every day.”
And with that approach, Izzo hopes to have a long, successful NFL career.
“I think my goals are just to continue to improve,” Izzo said. “If that’s as a blocker or as a pass-catcher or any of the big four on special teams, it’s just to continue to improve, continue to get stronger, stay in the weight room and try to be the best player I can be.”