For­mer spe­cial-teams stal­wart Bru­ton to re­tire

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala

PARKER» One of the fi­nal and most last­ing im­ages from David Bru­ton’s seven years as a Bronco was taken the evening of Dec. 20, 2015, in the bow­els of Pitts­burgh’s Heinz Field. His arms draped around line­backer Danny Tre­vathan and the team’s head physi­cian, Bru­ton hob­bled back to the vis­it­ing team’s locker room winc­ing in pain af­ter play­ing nearly an en­tire game on a bro­ken leg.

That im­age was as much a badge of honor and sum­ma­tion of Bru­ton’s NFL ca­reer as it was a re­minder of the sport’s phys­i­cal­ity. In his eight years in the league, Bru­ton was the sub­ject of so many of those pho­tos; his big plays were met with big­ger hits. One from 2014, when he lay on the ground and held his head in agony af­ter get­ting popped by Oak­land’s Denico Autry, still cir­cu­lates in re­ports of con­cus­sions.

“At the end of the day, it came down to health and be­ing able to still get up and play with the kid­dos or take the dog on the run or go do hob­bies. I just lost pas­sion to con­tinue play­ing. I felt like it was the best route for me to hang it up and pur­sue a dif­fer­ent route.”

“I need to talk to the NFL about that one,” Bru­ton said with a smile. “They’re us­ing my like­ness.”

Bru­ton is done be­ing the star of those mo­ments. The safety and spe­cial-teams ace is re­tir­ing from the NFL be­cause of his health and oth­ers’. Since Jan­uary he has been tak­ing pre­req­ui­site cour­ses at the Univer­sity of Colorado Den­ver to be able to ap­ply to phys­i­cal ther­apy school.

“A lot went into it. A lot of thought, a lot of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with my fam­ily, talk­ing about it with my friends,” Bru­ton, 30, told The Den­ver Post in a re­cent in­ter­view. “At the end of the day it came down to health and be­ing able to still get up and play with the kid­dos or take the dog on the run or go do hob­bies. I just lost pas­sion to con­tinue play­ing. I felt like it was the best route for me to hang it up and pur­sue a dif­fer­ent route.”

The de­ci­sion

Bru­ton didn’t give much thought to the phys­i­cal toll of foot­ball when he played. He couldn’t. Any hes­i­tance on the field could re­sult in more in­juries. Worse in­juries. But he thinks about it now, with a 13-year-old son, a 2-year-old daugh­ter and a list of hob­bies that in­cludes read­ing and moun­tain bik­ing — his re­prieve from study­ing for his up­com­ing chem­istry fi­nal was a 77-mile ride at Cop­per Moun­tain for the first leg of the Courage Clas­sic on Satur­day.

“I like to con­sider my­self a smart guy. A bit of a nerd,” he said. “So I like to have my brain func­tion­ing when I get a lit­tle older. That was a big rea­son.”

Bru­ton’s fi­nal min­utes as an NFL player were spent on the ground of FedEx Field sur­rounded by train­ers af­ter he suf­fered, by his count, the sixth con­cus­sion of his ca­reer, in a Red­skins win over the Browns last Oc­to­ber. Washington placed him on in­jured re­serve and later re­leased him, just seven months af­ter sign­ing him to a three-year, $9 mil­lion con­tract.

Bru­ton’s de­ci­sion to leave foot­ball al­to­gether was sealed af­ter a De­cem­ber work­out with the Bal­ti­more Ravens.

“I didn’t do well, nor did I have the pas­sion to work out and re­ally get back into shape or any­thing,” he said. “My agents hit me up about a cou­ple other teams for the play­offs who wanted me to come work out and I was just — no.”

Bru­ton, a fourth-round pick by Den­ver in the 2009 draft, fin­ished his NFL ca­reer with 141 tack­les (120 so­los), two sacks, three in­ter­cep­tions, five forced fum­bles and three fum­ble re­cov­er­ies.

He helped the Bron­cos win their third Su­per Bowl ti­tle (al­though he couldn’t play in Su­per Bowl 50 be­cause of his leg in­jury). He earned a mas­sive di­a­mond-stud­ded ring in re­ward, shook hands with Pres­i­dent Barack Obama months later (a photo of that mo­ment signed by Obama still hangs in Bru­ton’s home of­fice), was voted a team cap­tain in each of his fi­nal three sea­sons, was a reg­u­lar at com­mu­nity events, launched a foun­da­tion and his Bru­ton’s Books pro­gram to im­prove youth lit­er­acy in Den­ver, and later re­ceived a grant from the NFL Foun­da­tion that was used to ex­pand his foot­print into Day­ton, Ohio.

Part of his legacy with the Bron­cos re­mains en­graved in­side their Dove Val­ley head­quar­ters, on a plaque hon­or­ing his se­lec­tion as the team’s 2015 Wal­ter Pay­ton man of the year.

“Bru­ton was a great team­mate,” cor­ner­back Chris Har­ris said. “He was ex­tremely smart. He was just one of those guys who was very im­pact­ful on spe­cial teams for us and was a great leader. Just his in­tel­li­gence and just the way he led by ex­am­ple.”

In March 2015, Bru­ton left an of­fer on the ta­ble to re­turn as a backup safety in Den­ver and ac­cepted one to be a starter for Washington. It was a de­ci­sion he doesn’t re­gret. But not longer af­ter mak­ing it, he re­al­ized where he wanted to be and what he wanted to do long term.

“I missed it out here, I did,” he said. “It was def­i­nitely a change. Washington was run a lot dif­fer­ently than out here in Den­ver, and just how guys are was a lot dif­fer­ent. … I don’t feel like I was as wel­comed there as I was here in Den­ver.”

No more Tues­days

Hang­ing from a steel pole in the two-story liv­ing room of Bru­ton’s home in Parker is a life-size plas­tic skele­ton named Fred. For now, Fred guards the hall­way closet stuffed with Bru­ton’s No. 30 game-day jer­seys, and stands above a nearly 3,000-square-foot base­ment dec­o­rated with Bron­cos mem­o­ra­bilia and a pool ta­ble that bears the lo­gos of Su­per Bowl 50 and the Notre Dame Fight­ing Ir­ish.

Foot­ball has not left Bru­ton, but it has moved to the back­ground — be­hind Fred, Bru­ton’s team­mate in his next phase.

“It’s some­thing that I’ve al­ways wanted to do, since I was in high school,’” said Bru­ton, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and so­ci­ol­ogy ma­jor at Notre Dame. “I’ve al­ways wanted to help peo­ple and get them back on their feet, get them back to work. I did a lot of job shad­ow­ing when I was in high school and did a lot of work at a hos­pi­tal, so I got to see some. And, of course, I did a lot of it while play­ing foot­ball.”

Twice a week, Bru­ton has been trav­el­ing 35 miles to Den­ver for three cour­ses — Chem­istry II and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing lab, and an in­tro­duc­tion to psy­chol­ogy class. Next se­mes­ter, Physics I and Bi­ol­ogy II and their re­spec­tive labs will con­sume his days and evenings.

“No Tues­days,” he said of the NFL’s usual days off. “God, I miss Tues­days.”

On most Fri­days, Bru­ton treks to Golden to shadow the phys­i­cal ther­a­pists at Next Level Sports Per­for­mance, a clinic owned by for­mer Bron­cos as­sis­tant ath­letic trainer Jim Keller. Bru­ton must ac­crue 45 hours of ob­ser­va­tion with a phys­i­cal ther­a­pist for his ap­pli­ca­tion. But he will log many more.

With three years of phys­i­cal ther­apy school sched­uled to fol­low, Bru­ton is on pace to be li­censed by 2022.

“I have al­ways said that if there was ever a pro ath­lete that could go back to school and get their PT de­gree, I think they’d be fan­tas­tic,” Keller said. “The phys­i­cal and the men­tal — he un­der­stands the coaches’ de­sire to have a per­son be healthy but to also have them play. That’s why I think he could be great in this type of world and help a lot of peo­ple.”

But first he will make a cameo at Dove Val­ley dur­ing Bron­cos train­ing camp this sum­mer to ob­serve the team’s di­rec­tor of sports medicine, Steve “Greek” Antonop­u­los. And if his agents call again while he is work­ing on the side­lines, Bru­ton is adamant his an­swer will still be “no.”

“I’m A-OK with my de­ci­sion,” he said. “I’m al­ready con­tin­u­ing on with my life and mov­ing for­ward.”

AAron On­tiveroz, The Den­ver Post

For­mer Bron­cos safety David Bru­ton poses with his skele­tal study aid, Fred, at his home. Bru­ton is re­tir­ing af­ter eight sea­sons in the NFL. He is tak­ing pre­req­ui­sites to ap­ply to phys­i­cal ther­apy school.

AAron On­tiveroz, Den­ver Post file

For­mer Bron­cos safety David Bru­ton bats the ball be­fore mak­ing a key in­ter­cep­tion on a throw by Detroit Lions quar­ter­back Matthew Stafford in 2015.

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