TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Ryan Izzo took off from the line of scrimmage, breezed past a defender and made his way straight to the end zone.
It was then that Izzo had an option – cut into a flag route toward the sideline, or just turn around and look for the ball.
Seeing how that defender didn’t bother to follow him – nor did any defender, for that matter – the decision was easy.
And the Hall-of-Famer throwing the ball sure knew what to do, too.
Tom Brady, the New England Patriots’ superstar quarterback, floated a pass over a scrum of players to a wide-open Izzo, who secured a 10-yard touchdown that helped punctuate the Patriots’ 33-7 victory over the Washington Redskins on Oct. 6.
It was the 527th passing touchdown of Brady’s illustrious career. And it was Izzo’s first touchdown catch.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) October 6, 2019
“I felt like the moment went in slow motion, the ball coming to me,” said Izzo, a Florida State tight end from 2014-17. “Because I was so wide open. I wasn’t so much thinking, just kind of reacting. And I was ecstatic after.
“Tom threw me a great ball.”
A ball which now resides in Izzo’s home, a memento of a long road to a breakthrough season.
In a little more than a year, Izzo, a New Jersey native, was picked by New England in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL draft, was primed to contribute before landing on injured reserve with a high-ankle sprain, then spent the next several months working to prove that he could make a difference for the most successful franchise in professional sports.
All while balancing the studying and homework required to complete his Florida State degree.
Check and check.
Izzo officially earned his bachelor’s degree in social sciences and became an FSU graduate over the summer. Then, a few weeks later, Izzo made it through training camp and the preseason to secure a place on the Patriots’ 53-man roster. All of a sudden, the second-year pro was the heir apparent to recently retired All-Pro Rob Gronkowski.
“It’s just a blessing, man,” Izzo said. “It’s awesome to be around people that take their craft so seriously. People that have done it and been successful for many years. I just go in there with open ears and try to listen and continue to keep learning.”
Izzo is apparently a quick study. Through six games, he’d caught six passes for 114 yards before suffering an injury that has sidelined him for the last few weeks.
Tough as it was, Izzo credits the season spent on injured reserve with helping him to acclimate to the demands of the pro game.
He devoted himself to film study and, once healthy, to the weight room.
Knowing he was fighting for a spot among players he’d grown up watching on T.V. was a fine motivator, too.
“I remember watching (Brady) against the Giants in the Super Bowl. I always grew up watching him. It’s a blessing and a tribute to all my hard work that I’m in the same locker room as him. I’m just trying to perform.”
And when Izzo wasn’t working on football, he was typically hitting the books.
He left Florida State about two semesters short of his degree, but, in the back of his mind couldn’t shake the feeling that needed to finish.
So, with the assistance of FSU’s degree completion program and academic advisor Kellie Catanach – the same advisor who worked with him during his days as a full-time student-athlete – Izzo began to chip away at his remaining credit hours.
Izzo is among the latest Seminoles to take advantage of the program, which has helped dozens of former student-athletes across multiple sports and generations earn their degrees.
Like many of those that came before him – including former teammate Josue Matias – Izzo found the balancing act between being a full-time football player and a full-time student to be a challenge.
But he also found that he had everything he needed to make it happen.
“Once I left school, I still had help,” Izzo said. “It’s just such an amazing support staff that kept me up on my books. Whenever I had a question, they were a text away or call away. I’ve got a lot to pay tribute to Kellie and just the amazing support staff at Florida State.
“I knew when I was done, I would be so thankful. And I really am.”
Wherever Izzo goes in the NFL, a Florida State connection isn’t too far away. He shares a locker room in New England with former safety Terrence Brooks (2010-13), and the Patriots’ schedule crosses paths with several other Seminoles, both from Izzo’s era and beyond.
“I used to hear about those guys so much, and the standard they set at Florida State,” he said. “To be able to meet them, be around them or be their teammate, it’s awesome.”
No surprise, Izzo keeps a close eye on the current Seminoles, too.
And, like the rest of the FSU community, he’s eager to see what the football program’s future holds once a new head coach is in place.
“I think everyone is anxious to see what happens with the coaching,” Izzo said. “It’s a big spot to be in, but I know we’re going to hire the right guy.”