How James Ferentz went from flooring work to Super Bowl 50

Matt Cozzi

When James Ferentz steps onto the field in Sunday's Super Bowl, he will complete one of the most unlikely paths to the biggest event in American sports.

Denver Broncos’ offensive lineman James Ferentz (53), a former Iowa Hawkeye, celebrates with fans in the stands after the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. The Broncos won 24-10.

Ferentz is the backup center for the Denver Broncos, appearing in 14 games plus two playoff games on the offensive line and special teams. Ferentz — son of Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz — was a three-year starting center for the Hawkeyes from 2010-12. He spent the 2014 campaign on the Houston Texans' practice squad.

He spent 2013 working at Randy's Carpets.

Wait, what?

After graduating in spring 2013, the 6-foot-2, 285-pound Ferentz got shut out of the NFL. Aside from an appearance in rookie minicamp with the Chicago Bears, Ferentz didn't land a spot with a team. So he stayed in Iowa City and trained for an opportunity in professional football while working for Randy's Carpets, which is based out of Coralville and Cedar Rapids.

Former Iowa center James Ferentz waits for a call from quarterback James Vandenberg during a game in November 2012. Ferentz is now the backup center for the Denver Broncos.

"He did a lot of nasty groundwork," Randy's Carpets warehouse manager Jason Krieger recalled. "Tearouts, deliveries. Whatever he was asked, he did. Help check stuff in, check stuff out. Basically warehouse work. He did well. I never heard any complaints and he did all the work I asked him to do."

Ferentz's brother-in law, Matt Lesan — Ferentz married Lesan's sister, Skylar, in summer 2014 — referred the former Hawkeye to Krieger.

Then the grind began. For about eight months, Ferentz worked 40-plus hours per week for Randy's Carpets until he signed with the Texans in May 2014. 

Former Iowa center James Ferentz, now the backup center for the Denver Broncos, answers questions during Iowa media day in August 2012.

The Iowa City High graduate remained on the practice squad for the Texans, then tried to crack a spot on the 53-man roster for 2015. After the preseason this past fall, though, the Texans waived Ferentz. But the Broncos quickly picked him up and he contributed for the AFC champions most of the season.

Prior to this season, his last snap in regular-season competition was in 2012, when he garnered second-team all-Big Ten honors for the Black and Gold as a senior.

"It’s a good story and we’re really proud of him," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said this week. "I think everybody here is proud of him. ... It's a good story, he’s sticking with it, chasing your dream a little bit. I was teasing him, I said he’s gone from a day-to-day contract to a week-to-week contract, so he’s improved his lot in life. But that’s the reality of the NFL."

Blast from the past: Current Denver Broncos center James Ferentz starred at City High before playing in college at Iowa.

James Ferentz's stint at Randy's Carpets gives the staff a chance to reflect on something pretty cool.

"I don’t think it really hit anybody until a couple weeks ago when they were about ready to play in the (AFC) championship," Krieger said. "We were like, ‘Geez, James is playing in the Super Bowl if they win this week.’ ...

"When James was here he stayed humble, stayed grounded. He didn’t let what he did or what he was trying to do get to his head or anything."

Kirk Ferentz, wife Mary, and other family members are traveling to San Francisco for the Super Bowl between the Broncos and Carolina Panthers.

The Hawkeye coach became emotional when asked about his son's path to the big game.

"Again, it’s a good story," Ferentz said. "We’ve had a lot of them here, but just really proud of him sticking with it. He could have turned away at any time and nobody would have blamed him, but he’s stuck with it and we’ll see where it all goes."

Former Iowa and current Denver Broncos center James Ferentz will appear in this Sunday's Super Bowl.