The welcome to the NFL moments for Darius Kilgo were plentiful during his first season with the Denver Broncos this fall. The former Maryland defensive tackle endured two-a-days at rookie minicamps last May, appeared in the Broncos' season opener against Baltimore in September and watched Tom Brady try to lead a last-minute comeback by the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game last weekend.
And there's a bunch more ahead for him over the next week.
When Kilgo steps off the Broncos' team plane and onto the tarmac in California on Sunday, it will kick off another notable week in a rookie season full of memorable moments. Kilgo doesn't think he'll have a video camera in hand — his phone will be convenient enough for photos and videos during the week — but he plans to take time to savor the Super Bowl 50 experience.
"I know lots of guys that played in this league before that some of them never made it to the playoffs, and some of them never make it to the Super Bowl," Kilgo said in a phone interview this week. "I definitely want to cherish this moment and just soak it all up and just make it a memory of a lifetime.
"To go out there and get a win, that would make it even better. I just want to enjoy it with my team and just enjoy every aspect of it."
Kilgo appeared in nine games this season with Denver, which went 12-4, won the AFC West and had the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. He appeared in the first five games of the season and four more in the middle of the season, recording six tackles. He was inactive for the final three weeks of the regular season and Denver's two postseason games, but said, "That's just a numbers thing."
Though he hasn't played much down the stretch, Kilgo has relished the opportunity to learn on one of league's top defenses. The Broncos had four Pro Bowl selections from their defense, including outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Kilgo has soaked up tips from the veterans in the meeting room, and coupled with his in-game experience, that has helped accelerate his assimilation to the NFL.
"I think people really blow it up to be bigger than it really is," Kilgo said. "My biggest thing was just the speed of the game. Just coming out of rookie minicamp, everything was going so much faster. You had to learn everything faster. … You've got to be able to learn the playbook. You've got to be able to go out and show them you know the playbook. So it's just more of a mental thing."
Kilgo was a three-year starter at Maryland where he appeared in 43 games and made 36 starts. He finished his career with 125 tackles, 19 1/2 tackles for loss and 5 1/2 sacks. The Broncos selected him in the sixth round of the NFL draft last May after he wasn't invited to the NFL combine. After his selection, Kilgo said that snub helped motivate him in his pre-draft workouts, such as his pro day at Maryland. And that's where he was able to make an impression on the Denver organization.
"I think when we looked at him, we thought, 'Obviously he's got great size and he's long and he's got some athleticism to him and he plays hard,'" Denver general manager and executive vice president John Elway told DenverBroncos.com after Kilgo was drafted. "So, we always have great hopes for these players when they come in and obviously we know that we don't draft All-Pros, but hopefully they come in here and we help them become All-Pros.
"But we believe that he's a guy that with what was left on the board, he was as good as there was on the board and our top-ranked nose at that point in time. So we think he can come in and compete."
Kilgo appeared in all four preseason games with one start, recording 11 tackles and two sacks in those exhibition games. That helped set the stage for his regular-season contributions.
Denver is just two years removed from its blowout loss to Seattle in Super Bowl XLVIII, so Kilgo has already talked to some of his teammates about what to expect in San Francisco and Santa Clara leading up to the game against the Carolina Panthers. They've told him to be ready for a crazy experience, but to savor it and remember it because no one knows if he'll ever get another opportunity.
"It's still kind of hard for me to believe that I'm actually going to the Super Bowl my first year in the league," Kilgo said. "I was just fortunate enough to get drafted by a great team like the Broncos and then just being able to be on a team like the Broncos that just prepares the hardest [of any] team I've ever been on. It's a blessing, man."