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Bengals Rookie WR Andrei Iosivas Finds His Route And It's A Go

WR Andrei iosivas catches the ball during training camp at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Sunday, August 13, 2023.
WR Andrei iosivas catches the ball during training camp at the Kettering Health Practice Fields on Sunday, August 13, 2023.

Andrei Iosivas, the kid they dubbed "The Romanian Rocket," whose parents speak a combined five languages, is talking fluent Who-Dey heading into Saturday's preseason finale (6:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Washington.

In the same rapid fashion his dad says his son became Hawaii's youngest Taekwondo second-degree black belt and wide receivers coach Troy Walters says he has adjusted to NFL route running, Iosivas has shot from Opening Day inactive to leading candidate for Bengals rookie of the year when they open the season in Cleveland next month.

As fast as Princeton head coach Bob Surace knew he couldn't let him leave his campus visit without a yes.

"If we wanted to create an athlete from scratch to play wide receiver," Surace says, "that's what he would look like."

But it hasn't always been meteoric for the kid with the drop-dead looks and killer measurables. Go back to the end of his senior football season at The Punahou School in Honolulu.

"It's not the way I wanted it to go. I had two offers," Iosivas says of the openings at Princeton and Dartmouth. "No Pac 12. No nothing. I was wondering, doubting … Maybe I'm not as good at football as I thought.

"But I'm here now. And with everything I accomplished, that was the perfect route for me."

Iosivas learned that worldly patience from his father who gave him the Romanian name and a lifetime of attention. "My biggest accomplishment is my kids. I worked on them every single day since they were born," says Mihai Iosivas, a software engineer and entrepreneur.

He's on his way to visit Romania. But he broke up the 16-hour flight with Saturday's stop at FedEx Field.

"My wife and I have already been to the first two games," Mihai Iosivas says. "I have to show up for the preseason games because that's when the rookies play and we always want to be there to support him. It's a big move. No family, nobody, just moved from Princeton to Cincinnati. It's a big adjustment. He's tough. He knows exactly how to approach the whole process. But if I give him a little bit more mental safety by being around, I like to do that."

His son knows exactly how quickly his father adjusted when he made that big move.

"He grew up in Romania. The Berlin Wall fell. He got out of there as soon as he could. When he got his chance he went at the snap of his fingers," says Andrei Iosivas, ever the 3.8 GPA high school student, knowing communism's collapse in 1989 came ten years before he was born.

But Mihai Iosivas couldn't leave right away. There was still chaos, no passports, nowhere to go, and he had just started college. By the time he got his master's in computer science in the mid-90s, the time had come. The Soviet Union was long gone and the west was just beginning to realize the enormous talent waiting to be mined in the east. He took an offer in Japan as soon as he could, where he would soon meet his wife, a Filipino who speaks English, Tagalog, and Japanese. Evelyn "Bing," Iosivas would give Andrei his versatility.

"A student slash model slash translator," her son says.

"Like him, it took time," Mihai Iosivas says. "You have to set your goals and you have to basically take a step every day. Otherwise, sometimes when you think the goal is too big, you're afraid to make the first step because it's overwhelming. Then nothing happens. But it doesn't matter how big it is, it doesn't matter how hard it is. Just the right steps and eventually it will get there."

Once the family moved to Hawaii when Andrei was four (brother Alexandru is two years younger), every step seemed to involve football. Mihai Iosivas can't remember a week going by without him playing football. Andrei fell in love with it once he began playing flag football at age five in what his dad believes is the first year the NFL brought the program to the island.

Speed? Some didn't go for "Romanian Rocket," and opted for "Romanian Missile."

"Football is his first love … He only wanted to run track to get faster as he started playing football," Mihai Iosivas says. "I told him, 'You're already the fastest.' But he wanted more."

Somehow the right steps in this story of international intrigue had a Bengals tie.

Surace, a Bengals offensive line assistant for eight seasons before he became head coach at his alma mater, played at Princeton with Mike Lerch, a business partner of Mihai Iosivas. Lerch called Surace wondering if he would have anyone at Stanford's camp because his partner's son was going to be there. It just so happened that Princeton's tight end coach would be there and he saw Andrei run by a defender to make a diving catch.

Still, when Lerch called to say the father and son were a day early for their campus visit and could a tour be given? There may have been a bit of an eye roll. He had no problem doing a favor for a friend and teammate, but how many sons of business partners turned out to be players?

Then Surace saw him.

The athlete who won five gold medals in the Hawaii state track meet when he was supposed to be in only four events until they relaxed the rule for him, and Surace rewound back to his NFL days in free agency. He tried to keep them in a room so they couldn't get to the airport.

"He ran incredibly fast. He jumped far," Surace says. "It went from a favor to we have to have this guy," Surace says. "If he left and went to Boston College or Duke, we might not have got him."

It's a good thing, Surace thinks now, that the Stanford camp didn't time or measure back then. They would have found a 6-3, 205-pound 4.4 sprinter to go with elite jumping. Stanford offered Iosivas only a preferred walk-on. Troy Walters has to smile. A fifth-round receiver out of Stanford the year Andrei Iosivas turned one, he knows this kid could have played there.

"He's got the academic IQ and he's got the talent," Walters says. "Big, strong, fast, explosive. He could have played anywhere in the Power Five. He's more developed than I initially thought he was. He's doing a good job route running for a guy his size. He's able to get in and out of his breaks. He can decelerate without having to slow down. When he first got here, he was catching a lot of balls close to his body. now he's extending, reaching, and plucking the ball."

This is no news to Surace. Even if Iosivas isn't playing, he's watching the Bengals. He has since he left, in part because his Cincy kids, a son and daughter, are Bengals-obsessed. The first two preseason games were before Princeton started camp, but to Surace there was something familiar about quarterbacks Jake Browning and Trevor Siemian trusting Andrei enough to make him their leading receiver heading into the preseason finale. Surace has been afraid to leave the room during the games for fear he'll miss a target.

Plus, Surace's job has made him social media adept, so he knows how appreciative Iosivas is of the Bengals' Big Three receivers taking him under their wing. He knows he made a nice catch early on in Thursday's practice and of his daily battles with second-round cornerback DJ Turner and he hears what high hopes special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons has for him because that's what he'll have to do sitting behind Ja'Marr Chase Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd.

Iosivas never took a snap of special teams until he got here. But what hasn't he been able to do athletically? His Taekwondo coach wanted to take him on a career to the U.S. team. If he had decided to compete in the heptathlon his senior year at Princeton after coming in fourth in the national meet, Surace is pretty sure he would have pole vaulted 17 feet.

"He'd spend two days on the track during the week pretty much since he was playing football and he just wasn't running fast," Mihai Iosivas says. "He was doing everything. Long jump. High jump. Pole vault."

Surace knows the player that Simmons compares to Iosivas when it comes to size and style in the kicking game. Tab Perry, a sixth-round wide receiver in 2005 from UCLA whose promising career was cut short by a hip injury. Perry, primarily a kick returner, also did everything else for Simmons.

"A little bit. A big, physical guy who can run. It's not out of the realm (to return kicks), but he hasn't done that yet," Simmons says. "He's been solid. A work in progress with the intricacies of learning a new position. He's putting in the time and effort to learn. He's a resilient, hard-working kid. He asks good questions. He takes good notes. He is what we thought he would be. The guy went to Princeton. He knows how to take notes. Anytime you get a size-speed guy put together with his intangibles, you've got something special."

Surace didn't lobby the Bengals. He shares an Ivy League football lineage with Bengals president Mike Brown and worked with director of player personnel Duke Tobin, but he wasn't on the phone with them two weeks before the draft.

"They do their homework. Mike, Duke, the scouts. I've been in that draft room. They know who they're going to take," Surace says.

Still, it's a story that never gets old.

"It's a perfect storm," Surace says. "The kid is gorgeous, smart, and he's got all these great back stories in two sports. And, to my eye, he's playing really well."

The back story is the story. Like his son, Mihai Iosivas, who grew up kicking a soccer ball because he wasn't one of the chosen few athletes anointed by the system, they both had to wait for their shot.

"Wait. Wait. And then it happens. It's always been like that," Mihai Iosivas says. "We're his biggest fans. We knew it was going to happen."