EX-CU STAR BOBBY PURIFY PAYING TO KEEP PLAYING
The former CU star loves football so much, he’s paying to play it
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 email@example.com or @Kylenewmandp
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.”