When David Bruton, Jr. started thinking about his offseason training, he wanted something to build his conditioning and increase his leg strength.
A speedster who ran a 4.46 at the Combine in 2009, the Broncos' safety isn't too hot on long-distance running. And now that he's "getting older" as a 27-year-old pushing 28, the body doesn't recover like it used to.
So Bruton picked cycling.
You read that right - an NFL defensive back hopping on a bike (a lime green Specialized Venge Pro Race 2015 bike, no less) to improve his offseason conditioning.
And doing it in the Mile High City.
That's in a state with an 11,000-foot elevation variation.
That makes for some serious hill climbing - like Flagstaff Mountain near Boulder, dubbed a "classic climb" to avid cyclists who salivate at the thought of pumping their pedals for half a dozen miles up 6,983 feet elevation - which Bruton did Tuesday.
That's also training that will humble even the toughest of the tough.
"It's only six or seven miles up, so I thought, ‘that's not bad,'" said Bruton, who has been cycling for about five weeks with the help of Elevation Cycles. "Yeah, only. I died a few times on that ride."
But while the 6'2, 220-pound safety could only watch as the slender 150-pounders "hauled butt" up the hill, Bruton talked himself through the climb just like it was a football game. Each time he stopped to rest, he thought of it like a quarter - time to switch end zones and keep playing the game.
"When we got to the lookout, I just said, ‘please Lord, don't let there be an overtime in this game," Bruton laughed...but still added, "I do like the challenge."
There was no overtime on this ride, but Bruton knows it's coming at some point - and he'll be ready for it.
While cycling is definitely providing the conditioning benefits Bruton hoped for, the Ohio native can appreciate the mental toughness it builds as well.
It's all about pacing - and that's a lesson he's learned over and over in the NFL.
Drafted in 2009 in the fourth round out of Notre Dame, Bruton remembers a long first season with the Broncos.
"Your rookie year is long, and if you have a losing season, it's even longer," No. 30 said, recalling the Bronco's 6-0 start that ended 8-8. The following season (one erased from memory by many a Broncos fan), the team went a dismal 4-12.
But the next season (a year heralded by almost all fans), the Broncos were back in the playoffs and winning their first of what would become four AFC West titles in a row.
Bruton also got to play behind nine-time Pro Bowler Brian Dawkins those first two years, so all was not lost in the struggle.
Which is exactly the point.
Having a big-picture mentality - leaving past mistakes behind, whether a play, a game or a season, and moving forward - is a helpful character trait, especially on defense, says Bruton, who was named one of the five Broncos team captains this year. "As a DB, we have to do that all the time after a play."
Just like riding that bike - sometimes you have to get off and refuel, but you never stop pedaling up the hill.
Bruton likes to use the 2013 season as an example. Not as much for its impressive wins that led to a Super Bowl berth, but how players bounced back from the team's tough January playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens the season prior.
"You want to keep it in the back of your mind, but at the same time, it's ‘last season' and you don't want bad energy," Bruton said. "You have to go in [the next season] with a fresh mindset."
And that's exactly how the now-veteran safety is approaching his seventh year in the league.
The former Notre Dame standout is ready to prove his starter mettle and is aiming to be opposite T.J. Ward on the Broncos' depth chart.
Bruton logged 25 tackles last season plus two forced fumbles in addition to solid special teams play.
"I love the special teams role, but I'm ready to break from that title and show the Broncos I can be that guy that lines up on the other side of T.J.," Bruton said. "I played well in training camp. I played well when I had opportunities during the season, and I just want to build on that and show them I can be an every down safety."
The door for that second safety spot on the roster is certainly open for competition now that Rahim Moore has moved on to the Texans via free agency. Kayvon Webster, newly acquired free agent Darian Stewart, and possibly even cornerbackBradley Roby could be in the competition mix for that spot.
But just like those hills, Bruton isn't worried. He just keeps on pedaling.
"This league is full of competition and I've seen it all," he said, noting that he's stayed on the roster despite the Broncos bringing in several safeties in recent years via the draft or free agency. "I always find a way to stay."
Part of that is no doubt Bruton's tenacity on special teams. He repeatedly earned game balls from the MHR staff for his tackling as well as his heads-up play on special teams last season - including that sweet, glorious fake punt on 4th and 7 (yes, seven!!) against conference rival Kansas City Chiefs, resulting in a huge gain plus a boost to the offense.
"There are like three things on a checklist that have to go right for that play to work, and they all checked out, so I made the call," he said.
That kind of quick thinking and bold leadership is why Bruton was chosen as one of the team captains for the second year in a row last season. It's also what he plans to bring to the defense this season in a bigger way.
"I'm not looking to be a safety just to add depth," he added. "I'm looking to be a starter."
No matter where he sits on that chart, Bruton is getting excited about the upcoming season - new coaches, new playbook, new schedule - all new hills to climb.
And while he's excited to play the Patriots at Mile High and always likes playing the Colts, one game Bruton has his eye on is the matchup in Cleveland, home of the Dawg Pound, Manziel-mania and David Bruton Sr.'s favorite team.
Uh-oh. So will dad wear son's jersey to the game that day?
"He better!" Bruton said. "Or we have some things to talk about."
At least there will be no question that Bruton's son Jaden - who also lives in Ohio - will no doubt be decked out in a No. 30 jersey for the family affair.
The youngest Bruton would love to follow in his dad's footsteps - and is playing center and defensive line now in Pee Wee Football - but Bruton Jr. secretly hopes his son takes his size and athleticism to the diamond rather than the field.
"He wants to be like daddy," Bruton acknowledges. "But he's a lefty and a pitcher so I'm seeing a left-hand closer." (psst...Rockies, are you paying attention?)
Although Bruton would like to see his son take a different path than football, he still loves what the sport has given him.
And that's exactly why he enjoys being active in the Denver community through various charities such as Western Dairy's Fuel Up to Play that promotes healthy eating and an active lifestyle to kids, as well as being involved with the Broncos' community partnerships.
Bruton regularly visits schools and hospitals to share time and positive messages with kids. You can go to his new website to see the breadth of his community involvement, something Bruton is always happy to do.
Watch Dog Dad with Riley at Leawood Elementary. pic.twitter.com/Y2YgPTJXT1— David BRUTON JR. (@D_Brut30) April 1, 2015
"I've always just been a big kid," Bruton said, adding that since he was in high school, he would spend time with younger kids at the middle and elementary school or in the hospital. "As a kid, I didn't have Broncos player - or a Browns player - telling me this what you should do to live your life right, and it's great to be able to do that now."
Bruton understands how much impact a professional athlete can have by telling kids it's important to read or do their homework or eat right and exercise.
"There's just that much more weight to it when we say it," he noted.
And continuing to be a good role model is even more motivation for working hard, playing through adversity and persevering even when the games, the season, the losses are tough.
Bruton believes in setting the goals high and he likes the pressure of aiming for the championship every year. The key, he says, is breaking it down to get to that point.
"Each game is a mini-goal to get to that championship," Bruton said.
Yep. Just like riding a bike up that hill.
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