ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Justin Simmons travels with his wife and kids in the offseason. They explored Disney World recently.
But when he closes his eyes, he dreams of a place he's never been: the postseason.
In six years with the Broncos, he boasts an eye-opening resume: All-Pro, Pro Bowler, team captain, community leader.
A glaring omission gnaws at him.
"It’s all I want. And not just to get to the playoffs but to go win and compete for championships. That’s all I want to do," Simmons told Denver7 in an exclusive interview.
"I talked about it when I re-signed. Individual accolades are great. Those things will come. But we’ve got to win games. Win games, you are on in prime time. You have to make the plays that come to you. All the success will come, but it starts with team success. I just want to win. And it’s been too long since I have had that feeling.”
Simmons, 28, represents a core player. A year ago, Simmons signed a four-year, $61 million deal with $35 million guaranteed. He delivered last season, leading the Broncos with five interceptions, while producing 80 tackles.
It felt hollow when the Broncos finished with a 7-10 record, marking their fifth straight losing season for the first time since 1963-72.
Hope, however, is no longer a strategy. The Broncos acquired Russell Wilson in March, the nine-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champion caffeinating the building and inflating expectations.
"It’s a little like surreal at first, but it feels great. Now, we get guys back going over Xs and Os. I am loving the confidence guys have. It's great a guy like that can bring that in," Simmons said. "Defensively, we have been talking about what a challenge it's going to be. We get to go against one of the best in the league everyday in practice. I am really looking forward to that. We won't back down from that."
Dimensions make Simmons unique. He plays football, but it does not define him. He is a two-time Walter Payton Man of The Year nominee for his tireless work in the community. He has been a visible presence on social justice initiatives, legislative work, while helping countless kids through his Justin Simmons Foundation.
"I have always wanted to work to improve and create change. I am a direct beneficiary living in Denver. It matters to me. The kids matter to me," said Simmons, who will attend the second-annual March for Peace at the Broncos Boys & Girls Club at 10 a.m. Saturday.
"Ultimately, I want my kids as they are growing up to see their dad and mom trying to make impactful change instead of just talking about it.”
Simmons welcomes stability on the field. He enters his seventh season with his fourth head coach — Gary Kubiak, Vance Joseph, Vic Fangio and Nathaniel Hackett. Hackett is unlike the others. Defensive lineman Dre'Mont Jones compared him to a "happy baby." Simmons noticed the volume turned up to 11 two weeks ago.
"He's great. I know how this goes. You start talking about one coach and it means it was missing from another coach. That's not the story. [Hackett] has such a great presence about him. His energy is at an all-time high," said Simmons, whose No. 8 jersey was retired this offseason by Martin County High School in Stuart, Florida.
"In the first team meeting, he was talking about his love for hip-hop and dancing. I am going to my seat, saying, 'This is the head coach.' It is real. I am excited for training camp for the fans to see how much energy he has — it's non-stop. I don't know if he's pounding Celsius drinks behind the scenes or what. It definitely bleeds over into the other rooms and it makes you happy to be here."
Simmons follows in a lineage of great Broncos' safeties — Hall of Famers John Lynch, Brian Dawkins and Atwater, who was featured in a two-hour documentary on Denver7 on Thursday night. Atwater has left an indelible impression on Simmons that remains today.
"After the first time I met him, I thought he’s everything I want to be, everything that I want to accomplish out of my own career. Not that I wanted to emulate his game. I feel like you can't anymore. Just the way he carries himself. I always talk about Steve the person first. If you don’t know him as a person, you are missing out on the best part of Steve Atwater," Simmons said. "How he leads his family, how he's a husband and a dad — it's so amazing. I want to be that for my family."