DENVER — The question was simple. The answer was telling.
Teenagers Naja'Ray West and Nashara Ellerbee, organizers of the third annual March for Peace at the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club in Montbello, were asked what it meant to have Justin Simmons support the community event.
"He’s like a brother to us. We love him,” West said.
These words resonate with Justin in ways that are impossible to overstate. He is proud to help inspire others as he has done his entire career with the Broncos. But the last several months have been challenging.
Justin traveled back-and-forth to south Florida to visit his family, specifically his father Victor Leroy Hobson Simmons, who passed away from bladder cancer on April 21. He was 57. Justin's father's death came eight days after the passing of his mother and his grandmother Joyce Hobson Simmons.
Emotions remained raw as Justin spoke of the funeral a few weeks ago.
"It's been tough," Justin told Denver7.
Vic, as Justin's father was known, believed in him, always providing support and helping him realize his dream of playing in the NFL. He also introduced faith into his life, something Justin has leaned on during these difficult times.
"There are so many things I can say about you, but I want to highlight two things," Justin wrote on Instagram. "First, is your overwhelming confidence in my brothers and me. I never once did anything to prove my 'haters' wrong, I always and only wanted to prove you were right. Secondly, was your relationship with Jesus and how we got baptized together. Forever changed my life and more importantly saved my life. It's difficult for me to come to know you're gone, but I am at peace knowing you're next to Jesus right now."
Those who know Justin recognize how important it is to him and his wife Taryn that they set a good example for their three children. Justin loves football, but it doesn't define him. Being a good father and husband motivates him every day. It is why he remains heavily involved in community events, including last Saturday's March for Peace.
"It's exactly why I do what I do. I feel like I say it all the time. To pour into the youth and watch them flourish and reach goals and dreams, it's the most rewarding thing about giving back," Justin said. "It means a lot to me because it means a lot to Nashar and Ray-Ray. They have done such a great job of figuring out how they want to impact the community in a positive way."
Of late, football has provided a bit of a distraction for Justin as has attending Nuggets games. He believes Denver will win the NBA title. Postseason success is something Justin covets as he enters his eighth season with his fifth different head coach.
The Broncos begin OTAs this week, practicing Tuesday through Thursday. Justin has been impressed with new boss Sean Payton, who boasts 16 years of experience and a Super Bowl ring.
"Sean’s been great. Honestly, for him, he’s been there and done it and he’s very confident in what he can do and how he’s done it in the past. So when you have that type of confidence and you can tell that what you do works, people just follow that lead. There hasn’t been that much that we’ve done yet — we’re getting ready to start practice and all that good stuff — but I’m just excited for the season," Justin said.
“I’m excited to get the ball rolling. I’m excited to win," he continued.
For the Broncos to end their six-year streak of losing seasons and seven-year absence from the playoffs, they require a dynamic offense. Payton's offenses averaged 27 points over his career, leaving optimism about a rebirth for quarterback Russell Wilson and crew.
But the defense cannot take a step back. The group improved in sacks and takeaways last season, but struggled to finish games, partly because of breakdowns and partly because it was overworked.
What is old is new again as Vance Joseph, the Broncos head coach from 2017-18, returns as the defensive coordinator. Justin looks forward to playing for him again.
"I love VJ. Love him. Obviously it was unfortunate the way the stint turned out when he was here as the head coach. I’ve always loved him, especially as a person. He’s player driven. He’ll do anything for the guys on the team," said Justin, a member of the All-Pro team in 2019, 2021 and 2022.
"Right now, it’s been cool for me seeing, I feel like, a different version of him. When you’re the head coach, you’ve got so much more on your plate and you can’t be around as much," he said. "For the past few weeks to be around him as the defensive coordinator, you can tell how much it means to him and how much he loves the players. It’s been cool to reconnect.”
The same could be said of last Saturday. Justin spent the morning smiling, signing autographs, talking to kids and enjoying the event. It felt like he was with family because, in so many ways, he was.