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K.J. Hamler: 'Football brought me back to life' after surgeries, loss of grandma

Broncos receiver showed vulnerability, courage in addressing his return to practice
KJ Hamler Aug. 1.jpeg
Posted at 3:41 PM, Aug 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-01 20:18:14-04

ENGLEWOOD — K.J. Hamler walked out of the locker room Monday into the rest of his pro football career. Removed from the physically unable to perform list, Hamler practiced for the first time since undergoing surgeries on his hip — he had two pins and a plate inserted — and the ACL in his left knee last October.

He smiled, laughed, and went through a high-five routine with teammates Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick. The joy camouflaged his difficult road back. Hamler admitted in May that the isolation of rehab and the passing of his beloved grandmother, Ethel Gooding, left him in a dark place. Monday, Hamler showed courage, revealing that he considered taking his own life.

"At one point, I didn’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in this world. At one point, I didn’t want to be on this earth anymore because I lost my grannie, and that really hurt me," Hamler said. "God gave me the strength to get out of that hole. He knew I was strong enough to, even if I didn’t think so at that time. Just getting out of that hole was very hard, very tough.”

Hamler began seeing a therapist. He grew up proving wrong people who doubted him because of his size. That resolve, however, prevented him from showing vulnerability. Hamler is a much better place now, able to contextualize his feelings with the support of others.

"The devil was on my back. I wish I asked for help sooner. My grandmother was like my mother. I called her every Monday. When I missed that call on Monday, we got the call on Saturday (that she had passed away). There was a lot of regret. I was holding a lot of regret. It still kind of haunts me even though I doing better now," Hamler said.

"At first, I didn’t talk to anybody. I was wrapped up in this cocoon. As a man, you are taught to be tough and block everything out. That’s not the prime example of masculinity. Sometimes you have to let it out. You keep stuff held in, you just bottle it up and bottle it up and keep piling it on and piling it on until you explode. I am not afraid anymore to let it be known I was going through these things. We are all human. We are going to have those up days and down days.”

Praise followed Hamler throughout his recovery. He elected to undergo his operations at the same time rather than have them a month apart as suggested. It led to a 40-pound weight loss and grueling first month. Hamler, 23, found a lighthouse in his faith, family and therapy. He is roughly 178 pounds, his normal playing weight, and motivated to make an impact in his third season.

Even before Hamler spoke at the press conference, it was clear football has rejuvenated him.

"I take everyday, every step. I am blessed because I can get out of my bed and walk on two feet and some people can’t do that. I am very blessed that I am out here. Football brought me back to life and I am grateful," said Hamler, who spent Monday after practice hanging out with the kids in the family section, racing them and making them smile.

"To see where I am at from where I am started, there’s a big change. I am proud of myself. And I know my grandmother is proud.”

Hackett shows frustration
On the fifth day of his first training camp in charge, it happened. Coach Nathaniel Hackett showed frustration with his offense. Quarterback Russell Wilson recognized the urgency, and huddled players together and demanded better. What followed were the best two throws of camp. Wilson lofted a teardrop pass over cornerback Pat Surtain — he has made life miserable for the offense — and into the hands of Courtland Sutton for a red zone touchdown.

On the next play, Wilson found a wide open Jerry Jeudy on a crossing route for a score as it looked like there was miscommunication with nickel cornerback Essang Bassey, in for starter K'Waun Williams, who is day-to-day with a leg injury.

"I was upset because it had not been going very well. And Russell felt that and brought them up, which was great to try and get those guys back on track because that's what happens in a game," Hackett said. "You just have to continue to battle. It doesn't matter what the situation is."

Added left guard Dalton Risner, who has dropped from 325 to 301 pounds to better fit the wide zone blocking scheme, "We have to get started faster. That was not championship football."

The Broncos will go in full pads for the first time on Tuesday. It means the evaluation of the offensive and defensive lines will begin in earnest.

Receiver Tyrie Cleveland was hit in the throat and exited practice, but should be OK.