The for­mer CU star loves foot­ball so much, he’s pay­ing to play it

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Kyle New­man The Den­ver Post

Every­thing has changed for Bobby Purify. Yet, some­how, every­thing has re­mained the same.

In this state, he’s a leg­end. The for­mer Palmer High School star rushed for 2,102 yards and 24 touch­downs as a se­nior in 1999. His 3,016 ca­reer yards rush­ing at the Univer­sity of Colorado rank fourth-best in Buffaloes his­tory. And while his pro­fes­sional ca­reer was short, for parts of three decades it’s been im­pos­si­ble to talk about foot­ball greats from the Front Range with­out men­tion­ing Purify.

Twenty years af­ter he first turned heads on a high school field in Colorado Springs, he has faded from the main­stream spot­light. But for a group of men — some barely old enough to no longer be con­sid­ered boys — his name still car­ries the weight it did when he was a Big 12 Con­fer­ence cham­pion.

Purify, now 35, con­tin­ues to star in foot­ball — for the Colorado Grey­hawks, a semipro fran­chise that com­petes in the 10-team Colorado Foot­ball Con­fer­ence.

There are no equip­ment man­agers at this non­profit level. Purify totes his own pads to the field from the trunk of his car.

There are no re­cruiters or pay­checks. The Grey­hawks play at area high school sta­di­ums and typ­i­cally don’t draw more than 100 fans, most of them friends and fam­ily mem­bers.

Purify and his team­mates, rang­ing in age from 18 to 42, pay to play — up to $240 per sea­son — just for the op­por­tu­nity to pass, catch, tackle or ex­e­cute a fa­vorite

touch­down dance once a week from April through Septem­ber.

“As a kid, I played for the love of the game. And as I got older, I wanted to play for the money,” said Purify, who had brief NFL stints with the Green Bay Pack­ers and San Fran­cisco 49ers. “Now that I’m an old man, I’m back to play­ing for the love of the game again. I’ve got a lot of young cats on my team that I’ve taken un­der my wing to just show them the ropes, and in those ways, there’s a pure­ness to the game for me right now that I haven’t felt since I was a kid.”

At age 30, the CFC is the old­est mi­nor-league foot­ball or­ga­ni­za­tion in the coun­try, ac­cord­ing to Grey­hawks gen­eral man­ager Alan Prado, and it’s been dom­i­nated by his team since the Grey­hawks de­buted in 2014.

Purify’s pres­ence on the ros­ter epit­o­mizes a team laden with for­mer col­lege and pro­fes­sional play­ers, and that ex­pe­ri­ence shows in the win col­umn. The Grey­hawks were rid­ing a 25-game win­ning streak as they went for their fourth con­sec­u­tive CFC cham­pi­onship Satur­day night at North Sta­dium, and the team also is the de­fend­ing mi­nor-league foot­ball na­tional cham­pion.

The Grey­hawks are the most ob­scure cham­pi­onship foot­ball team in the Cen­ten­nial State. And they have be­come a haven for Purify, who put his le­gal trou­bles in the rearview mir­ror — he served a two-day jail sen­tence in 2015 for felony theft — as he fo­cuses on rais­ing his three daugh­ters and run­ning his per­sonal train­ing busi­ness in the Den­ver Tech Cen­ter.

“Ini­tially, I came out for the Grey­hawks just to stay com­pet­i­tive and just to stay in shape, but this team’s truly be­come a sec­ond fam­ily for me since I started four years ago,” Purify said.

“The coach­ing staff and ad­min­is­tra­tion have done amaz­ing things to stack our team from top to bot­tom. We’re one of the more dom­i­nant mi­nor-league teams in the whole coun­try, and we do it with a bunch of guys who have been around the game a long time. We re­spect the game be­cause we know how much it can give, and how eas­ily it can be taken away.”

Purify hasn’t made a start in the back­field this sea­son; he’s a free safety, a po­si­tion switch that has so­lid­i­fied the Grey­hawks’ de­fense.

The de­fense hasn’t al­lowed a point in five of the team’s 10 wins this sea­son. Coach and team founder Rashad Ray said Purify’s lead­er­ship is a big rea­son for that. Ray noted that it’s “hard to keep a group of grown men all on the same page when they’re just play­ing for the love of the game,” but Purify’s ex­am­ple has eased the process.

“How can you tell a guy like Purify, who was a star run­ning back at CU and was in the NFL, ‘Hey, I don’t need you at run­ning back, I need you to play free safety,’ ” Ray said. “That’s what he’s do­ing for me, be­cause if you’re a true Grey­hawk, you play mul­ti­ple po­si­tions and you adapt to make us one of the best teams in the coun­try.”

Purify even played de­fen­sive end last year en route to the na­tional ti­tle, post­ing five sacks and two scoop-and-score plays in the CFC semi­fi­nals. This year, the Grey­hawks are ex­pected to qual­ify for the na­tional ti­tle game again. It will be played in Septem­ber against an out-of-state semipro team yet to be de­ter­mined.

“We’re a very deep team, so if you’re able to help in a dif­fer­ent po­si­tion that hap­pens to not be as strong for us at that time — or if a switch fits the game plan that day — you have to be able to swal­low your pride and move over so we’re strong across the board,” Purify said. “Guys have con­tin­u­ally done that, and that style hasn’t been a hin­drance to us draw­ing more lo­cal tal­ent out each year, ei­ther.”

Purify works with the run­ning backs at the Grey­hawks’ prac­tices at Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton High School on Wed­nes­day nights, whis­per­ing wis­dom in their ears about pa­tience and let­ting the play de­velop.

The Grey­hawks’ youngest player, 18-year-old kicker and punter Johnathan Men­dez, ap­pre­ci­ates Purify’s in­flu­ence.

“There’s so many for­mer pros on this team — quar­ter­backs Ju­lian Banks and Mark Ni­co­let played in the arena leagues in Europe, and a leg­end like Purify re­ally takes our fo­cus to an­other level,” said Men­dez, a re­cent grad­u­ate of Aurora Cen­tral. “So for me, Purify is in­spi­ra­tion, and this team as a whole is a chance to get more film, send it out to col­lege coaches and try to get my name out there as much as I can so I can move on to the next level.”

The Grey­hawks have seen two of their play­ers go on to play in the In­door Foot­ball League. But for most of the Grey­hawks — Purify in­cluded — the sport has taken on a dif­fer­ent mean­ing.

Nearly ev­ery player has a sep­a­rate ca­reer, a fam­ily and a var­ied foot­ball back story that led them to this point, where each op­por­tu­nity to wear a Grey­hawks jersey is nearly as sa­cred as the mo­ment years ago when, as young boys, they strug­gled to get their arms into their pads or their head in their hel­met. Their bond with the game glowed then, in its in­fancy, as it does now in its twi­light.

“Throw­ing touch­down passes never gets old, and be­ing part of the team never gets old,” said Ni­co­let, a fi­nan­cial ad­viser when he isn’t play­ing foot­ball. “For the ma­jor­ity of these guys, we’re in a good sea­son of life where this pur­suit makes sense. Prac­tice once a week, game on Satur­days. And while we chase that na­tional cham­pi­onship, we never lose sense of just how fun it is to be out here in the first place.”

Kyle New­man: 303-954-1773 knew­man@den­ver­post.com or @Kyle­new­mandp

Seth Mccon­nell, The Den­ver Post

Bobby Purify, a for­mer Palmer High School and Univer­sity of Colorado star at run­ning back, is play­ing free safety at age 35 for the Colorado Grey­hawks of the 10-team Colorado Foot­ball Con­fer­ence. “As a kid, I played for the love of the game. And as I got older, I wanted to play for the money,” says Purify, who had brief NFL stints with the Green Bay Pack­ers and San Fran­cisco 49ers. “Now that I’m an old man, I’m back to play­ing for the love of the game again.”

Pho­tos by Seth Mccon­nell, The Den­ver Post

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