ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Not that long ago, Broncos rookie defensive lineman Derek Wolfe was down to his last $7 and wondering how he was going to pay rent.
Now, after recently signing a four-year, $5.2 million contract, the second-round draft choice is looking at condos and pricing out new Ford F-150 trucks.
Everything has suddenly fallen into place for the University of Cincinnati standout who once was so broke he contemplated leaving school early simply because he was sick of asking everyone for favors.
"The journey has just begun," Wolfe said. "I haven't earned anything yet."
That hunger may be what the Broncos appreciate most about Wolfe.
And it's also why they think he'll make up ground in no time as he returns to the team this week for minicamp. Wolfe missed quite a few offseason workouts since he wasn't allowed to attend until his school was out for the summer.
So now he's cramming off the field in order to catch up on it.
"I'm starting to get it, get the playbook down, kind of figure out what they need me to be doing," Wolfe said. "Little by little, I'm learning it."
He's also leaning on fellow linemen. Jason Hunter, in particular, has been lending a helping hand. Wolfe has been running with the second team and Hunter sometimes goes over the assignment with him just before the snap.
"He has helped me so much it's unbelievable," Wolfe said.
It's funny that Wolfe should wind up in Denver. After all, it was Broncos boss John Elway who made Wolfe cry as a kid. A big Green Bay Packers fan growing up, Wolfe painfully watched Elway lead the Broncos to a 31-24 Super Bowl win following the 1997 season.
"I was going to write a letter to him, tell him how mean he was," Wolfe said.
These days, the only note he'd write is of the thank-you variety — for taking a chance on him.
Wolfe didn't have the most stable environment growing up in Lisbon, Ohio, never knowing his father and becoming estranged from his mother. He lived with the family of a close friend, who invited him in.
Through it all, the football field became his sanctuary, the one place where he could escape anything that was bothering him.
At Cincinnati, Wolfe developed into quite an interior lineman, a player whom opponents frequently had to double-team just to try to keep him out of the picture. He had three solid seasons with the Bearcats before he almost left.
Late on his rent and with just a few bucks in his pocket, Wolfe decided he was tired of asking friends for help.
"It's demoralizing," he said. "It hurts when you have to do that."
But to leave early was a big decision.