After one of the greatest careers by a running back in Cincinnati history, Isaiah Pead surprisingly slid down the St. Louis Rams depth chart after being selected 50th overall. He emerges one year later from a year of self-proclaimed misery with renewed hope to live up to lofty NFL expectations.
In the darkest moments, Isaiah Pead sat inside his expansive house tucked in the suburbs of St. Louis and bounced a tennis ball against the wall. Alone.
He'd lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling, music playing, with the loneliness only matched by the frustration.
Pead left the Unviersity of Cincinnati known as much for an outgoing personality and contagious laugh as explosive cuts and game-breaking speed.
Yet, one year after being selected by the Rams as the second running back taken in the 2012 NFL draft, he's recovering from a rookie year spent buried as deep within his own mind as his third spot on the depth chart.
"Honestly, I would call it miserable," Pead said. "Miserable life. Miserable four-five months."
High expectations crumbled to a rubble of humility by the time Pead packed his bags at season's end. The moment the Rams completed their 7-8-1 season with his exit interview, he arranged a flight and wasted no time bolting town and an empty house that symbolized unfulfillment.
"I took off and I didn't come back until it was time to," Pead said. "I just wanted to stay out of this area, I came back for a couple days to pack up then all the memories and walking back into my house by myself, had a couple days by myself, I just needed to get out of that area."
The second-round pick and 50th player selected overall sparingly touched the field, surprisingly beaten out by seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson early in the season, both behind veteran Steven Jackson. He played a total of 42 snaps. Pead carried 10 times for 54 yards and caught three passes for 16 yards. A mediocre half for him at UC, an entire healthy season in St. Louis.
"I was literally fed up with football," Pead said. "Not a quitter, not quitting, I was just tired of football. Tired of practice for the day and I would just lay there play video games and whatnot because it was so miserable, so stressful."
Pead can't explain how his situation reached these ugly depths. He honestly doesn't know. Twice during the year he says he arrived late for meetings, though, those discretions came after the backup position he thought would be his fell to the 252nd overall pick out of Abilene Christian. Combine disappointment on the field with an unattached life off it living away from a social scene, teammates, without a girlfriend and even having his grandparents take his dog back to Ohio in order to allow keener focus.
In uncertain surroundings and football suffocating every moment, the season snowballed.
Lessons like those learned by Pead last season can't be coached. They can't even be taught by parents. They can only be endured.
Long battles inside his own mind stemmed to simplistic roots. Not necessarily his roots racking up 4,009 yards receiving and rushing with the Bearcats. Or even breaking Archie Griffin's Ohio high school rushing records at Eastmoor Academy. His coping mechanism went deeper.
"I find myself taking all the way back to Day One when I first started playing football," Pead said. "I went through progressions with myself. What is going on? What am I doing wrong? What can I do right? How can I change this situation? (Moved) to the point I just stop worrying about it, just went to practice every day. Did the best I could."
He employed the same strategy as Season 2 began last week in St. Louis. Jackson moved on to the Falcons and a wide open running back room awaits with Pead in position to seize the day. Coach Jeff Fisher believes Pead can easily live up to his draft-pick status. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter even pegged Pead as his 2013 NFC breakout player during a recent interview session with Sports Illustrated's Peter King. Despite all that's gone wrong for Pead, the future remains ripe with opportunity.
"He just didn't get a chance because of the other two," Fisher said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, referring to Jackson and Richardson. "But he'll get his opportunity this year. ... He's got a chance to make a lot of big plays for us."
Few understand better than Pead no position comes predestined, no opportunity given. That's especially true for a player with an empty year anchored to his 23-year-old body.
Months removed from the situation in the supportive grasps of friends and family helped provide perspective. He feels renewed and focused on improving his mental approach. Earlier to rise, earlier to bed, more time in the playbook, less time opting for fast food. All small aspects of being a pro which partially contributed to his disappointment.
"Whole new era, whole new attitude, whole new team, whole new Pead," he said.
Humbled and hopeful, Pead doesn't sugarcoat his expectations. He feels capable of breaking out into the player that made him a fan favorite and national star at UC, but admits no matter how hard he tries the decision ultimately rests in the hands of others.
He's come to terms with an unpredictable reality, only prefers to keep blinders on while tracking his personal finish line.
"Now I'm just getting back to what I know what got me here and that's being the best in the workout that day, going home, coming back and giving my best in the workout that day," Pead said. "My goals, I really don't have one. I want to win every day and be the best person every day."
He views the concept of opening the season as the starter more as a complete 180 than desired accomplishment. His goals don't stretch beyond a championship and a chance. Contemplating anything further drags him in the direction of last year's misery.
"I just want to play," Pead said. "I'm not even asking to be the starter, I just want to play."
Touching the field represents the next step toward officially burying those long nights staring at the ceiling or bouncing the tennis ball against the wall. A declared man of action rather than talk, he's finally able to start running toward daylight.
"I'm not going to sit and linger on something, but I am one to not forget about a situation," Pead said. "I am moving on from last year, last year is last year, but I have not forgot about last year. I wouldn't call it revenge, but the chip that I put on my shoulder is just a little bigger."
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