Hometown Broncos: Colorado natives relish chance to become heroes

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Phillip Lindsay might be the only NFL Pro Bowler who still lives in his parents' basement. Watch SC Featured: Rough Draft: From the Basement to the Pro Bowl Saturday on ESPN. (0:59)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The late Pat Bowlen, who owned the Denver Broncos for 35 years, was once asked: How many people in Colorado and neighboring states would you want to be Broncos fans?

"Well, all of them," he said without hesitation.

Bowlen wanted all the Colorado babies grow up to be Broncos. Funny thing is, some of them did.

When defensive lineman Deyon Sizer was promoted from the team's practice squad earlier this month and played five snaps against the Kansas City Chiefs, he joined running back Phillip Lindsay as current Broncos who played high school and college football in the state before playing in a game for the region's flagship sports franchise.

There are now four Colorado natives on the roster, "hometown Broncos" -- Lindsay, Sizer, guard Dalton Risner and defensive lineman Mike Purcell.

"That's pretty cool," said Lindsay, a Denver South High School graduate. "Colorado kids growing up to be Broncos."

There have now been 19 players in the franchise's history to have pulled off the Colorado trifecta, playing all three levels of football here. The previous time the franchise had multiple players, as it does this season, was 2008 (Tyler Polumbus, Erik Pears and Daniel Graham).

The Broncos have a home sellout streak dating back to 1970. They've inspired a decades-old passion among their faithful spreading far beyond either side of the Continental Divide. And for someone who grew up immersed in Broncos country, it is no small feat to put on the team's jersey.

"There have been moments where I just played in a game where you sit for a second and it hits you, you know you don't ever want to take that for granted," Lindsay said. "Count your blessings, and be appreciative of all of the little things that really, when you think about them, are big. And to be able to play for the Denver Broncos, I've been a Broncos fan, my family has been Broncos fans, and most everybody we know have been Broncos fans, my whole life."

"I was the biggest Broncos fan ever, I was a sophomore and junior in high school when they won [Super Bowl] XXXII and [Super Bowl] XXXIII," said Joel Dreessen, a Fort Morgan, Colorado, native who played two of his eight NFL seasons the Broncos. "I watched everything, Ed McCaffrey, Shannon Sharpe, Terrell Davis, John Elway, Rod Smith. I loved them. I ate, slept, lived for the Broncos. John Elway was my hero ... and hell, in 2012 I'm talking to [Elway] to sign with the team."

Daniel Graham, whose father, Tom, also played for the Broncos -- the only father-son combination to have played for the team -- has said, "Maybe it's hard for people to understand what the Broncos mean to people here -- it's part of everything, to be able to come home to play will always be one of things I'm most thankful for in football." Daniel Graham graduated from Denver's Thomas Jefferson High School before playing at Colorado, and was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame earlier this year.

The list of hometown Broncos includes a longtime NFL assistant in current Vikings offensive-line coach Rick Dennison (Rocky Mountain High, Colorado State and Broncos); former Colorado Rockies president Keli McGregor (Lakewood High, Colorado State and Broncos); an officer in the Colorado Air National Guard and current 49ers center Ben Garland (Central High, Air Force Academy and Broncos); and the current play-by-play voice of the Broncos, Dave Logan (Wheat Ridge High, Colorado and Broncos).

Logan, believed to be one of three people to be selected in the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball drafts, just won his eighth Colorado state football championship as a long-time prep coach.

Becoming a Bronco after growing up in Colorado might be a kid's dream, but it's not always easy. There's pressure. Hometown Broncos have all felt the round-the-clock interest in their actions from most everyone they've known.

"I'll be honest with you, there was a part of me that was scared as hell to leave Houston [in 2012] to come back home for fear that I was just a product of that [Texans' offensive] system, but conversations with John Elway and Peyton Manning will convince you of some things," Dreessen said. "I was determined to not be a free-agent bust. Everyone feels that as a player, but coming to the Broncos that mortified me, everybody I knew from growing up, everybody was about the Broncos, it was wildly important to me to have those results from their investment in me."

Risner, a rookie who went away for college at Kansas State before returning home to the Broncos as a second-round pick in April, is one of the team's most popular players. He might have the honor of coming from the smallest town of any of the state's natives to play for the Broncos -- Wiggins, Colorado, with a population of 996, according to the most recent census.

"Humbled is kind of the word I've used," Risner said. "It's how I feel. The Broncos, my family, my hometown, those are all things from my roots, where I came from, they're a part of me. It's real."

That's not just lip service. Before the Broncos' first stadium practice during training camp -- Risner's first work in the stadium as a Broncos player -- he walked out of the tunnel an hour early to take a video on his phone from field level.

Another current homegrown Broncos player, Lindsay, holds a unique distinction. He is the first player to have played in the middle school football program sponsored by the Broncos -- Denver Broncos Futures Football -- to make the parent club.

Lindsay's ultimate hometown experience included living at home, with his parents, during his rookie season last year. He said the additional scrutiny and interest that might come with a Broncos player being so close and accessible to family and friends was tempered by being in the same house he grew up in.

"It made me more comfortable, being at home," Lindsay said. "I know the ins and outs of Denver, the state of Colorado, how Broncos country is and everything else, because it's home. It felt good. My parents are there, my brothers and sisters, it's home, been here my whole life. Everybody I knew was a fan, but my family has been a football family forever, it's part of the game, just part of who we are. I'm pretty good at saying no to things I can't do, but the thing is even if I say no the people that know me know I'm not far away, you can come see me any time."

Said Dreessen: "You do feel that interest from so many who knew you or your family or your friends, and I said no to a lot of things because being successful in that short time you're in the league was important to me. It can be an odd experience. I'm six years removed from my last game, but I just thought of this the other day -- I was like, 'Where the f--- did all my friends go?' No lie, when you're playing in the NFL so many people just want to be part of that, especially here, and I think when you're not playing they assume it's all like before."

In the end, many former hometown Broncos have stayed in the area and are regulars at team functions. Most, like the people around them, yearn for playoff seasons and Super Bowl trips. Well, almost all of them.

"I can tell you when I stopped being a Bronco fan," Dreessen said with a hearty laugh. "When they took Maurice Clarett in the third round of the [2005] draft instead of me. I was so pissed; that would have been the ultimate."