ENGLEWOOD — Justin Simmons may be surprised he was named the Broncos' Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for a third-straight season Tuesday, but ask anyone who knows him — from teammates to coaches to many people around the Denver community — and they'll tell you this is no surprise.
Simmons joins former NFL linebacker Wesley Woodyard to become one of only two Broncos to be nominated for the award three times. He is one of 32 nominees, as each team selects one player each season for an award that "recognizes a player for his outstanding leadership both on the field and in the community."
The Broncos' safety has exemplified that since he joined the Broncos organization, selected in the third round in the 2016 NFL draft. He's spent endless hours giving back to the community, building relationships with kids at the Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club, speaking out on social justice issues and connecting with people few would expect.
"I'll never forget the first time I was nominated for the Walter Payton Man of the Year — I was completely in shock because I thought that was something that was out of my grasp," Simmons said Wednesday. "You look at the guys who have been nominated, not only here but across the league and guys that have won the national award, that is, in my opinion, it's the most prestigious award you can have and honor you can receive in the NFL. To know what Walter Payton, the man himself, stood for and the conversations I've had with his family over the years, it means a lot."
Simmons' community work is widespread, most notably the amount of his time he spends at the Boys & Girls Club. It's there that he mentored several teenagers in a nine-week program in an effort to organize a "March for Peace" in June 2021. In the last year, he also cultivated a unique relationship with a family who had lost their son — also named Justin Simmons — by inviting them to a Broncos game this season. And he's been one of the most active Broncos in the community, volunteering at 40 community events facilitated by the team.
For him, giving back to the Denver community is something that's never been a question.
"It's where my feet are," Simmons said. "I don't like looking in the future. I don't like reminiscing in the past. I like being where I am at the moment. And for the past six years, that's been Denver. Anywhere I am, my family and I, we're going to give 100 percent of us as long as we can. The Denver community is where my family is a direct beneficiary of. I want my daughters to grow up in a community that is circled around and constantly building off each other and wanting a better world for each other."
The winner of the award will be announced during the NFL Honors show, which will air Feb. 10, 2022. And many around the Broncos organization, of course, believe this could be the year Simmons brings the award home.
"It's a great honor for him. Well deserved," coach Vic Fangio said. "Justin, I think, does it with the right mindset and the right heartbeat in that he likes doing it. He doesn't do it because he thinks he should. I think he enjoys doing it and he does it with a good heart and a good mindset. And I think that's what you have to do to make an impact outside of football... He's certainly very deserving and I think he deserves strong consideration to get the big award at the end."
But for Simmons, while actually winning the award would be quite the honor, he hopes to use his nomination as a platform to share his experiences and continue his work in the community.
"I don't even know if I could put into words, honestly," Simmons said. "I personally get choked up thinking about it. It would honestly mean everything, not even to win the award, but I know what that spotlight would come with, with the recognition of — let's dive into what you're doing.
"It's not me, but it's the opportunity to spotlight the amazing people that are doing the behind-the-scenes work that doesn't get talked about enough."