AURORA, Colo. — Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson work together on the football field like brothers. They communicate without speaking, creating a special bond that has helped make the Broncos' secondary the team's strongest unit over the last four years.
Their friendship extends off the field. And when talking this offseason, the pair, both heavily involved in the community, wondered why they hadn't combined forces with their respective foundations through a free football camp.
"We should have been doing this for a while now. For us, we know the impact that we have in the city," Simmons said. "We wanted to do something special, and hopefully this is something we can continue to do."
Added Jackson, "To be able to bring a camp here, to get a chance to do it, this is an opportunity we definitely wanted to take advantage of."
Simmons and Jackson were joined by teammates P.J. Locke, Caden Sterns, Aaron Patrick, and Damarri Mathis, who told Denver7 that he will be cleared for training camp after dealing with a knee issue in OTAs.
On a comfortable Saturday morning at Aurora Central High School, Simmons and Jackson ran more than 300 kids through drills, teaching fundamentals, trading smiles, and creating competition. At one point, a young camper talked trash and Simmons intercepted a pass. When kids scored touchdowns, they were encouraged to dance or hip-bump the NFL players.
For Simmons and Jackson, it was a trip down memory lane.
"Camps had a huge impact on my life," said Jackson, who fondly recalled attending two-time NBA champion Norm Nixon's hoops events in Georgia. "I know having an opportunity to see professional guys and being around those guys, it was inspiring. To give some of the knowledge to the kids, to inspire them to chase their dreams, maybe one day they will make it to the big stage."
Simmons attended his first camp in the Miami area with his father who passed this offseason. The memory remains strong.
"I remember my dad saying we were going down to this camp. We didn't know anybody. For me it was fun. This is how I remember it," Simmons said. "This is what is cool and what I picked up on. It was the drills that I remember, how fundamental everything was."
The clock is ticking toward Broncos training camp. Veterans report on July 25. For a team that has posted six straight losing seasons, Jackson and Simmons are ready to embrace change under new coach Sean Payton. There will be no Oklahoma or Bull in The Ring drills, but make no mistake, camp will look, feel, and sound different after last summer's glamping.
"I don’t think he can throw anything at me I haven’t seen. I am looking forward to it. I am excited. He’s kind of telling everyone it’s going to be different. For us as a team I think it will be great for us," said Jackson, who is entering his 14th season with a goal to play 15 years.
"I think we need it, to have a cultural shock and see something different, to see how a different ship is run. Thus far, everything has been great, OTA, minicamp. He doesn’t skip a moment to teach. I enjoy that and I think the younger guys need that as well.”
Echoed Simmons, “This is no shot at any other coach I’ve had. You can tell how successful he has been by the way he’s come in and how detail-oriented he is. He’s been great. I am excited. I think the best way I can describe is how educational it’s been. I said that in OTAs. To put it under one word, it would be educational. He competes and I think that’s what I like the most.”