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Broncos a band of brothers for Derek Wolfe

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The defensive end has been having an all-pro kind of year despite missing the first four games of the season for a suspension. In his fourth year with the Broncos, Wolfe can't wait to play in the Super Bowl with this team - a group of guys he considers his family.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

When Derek Wolfe and his fellow defensive linemen sprint out of the tunnel to kick off Super Bowl 50, No. 95 will be trotting on to the field with his family.

It will feel to him like a war soldier going into battle with his band of brothers.

Because that's really who his teammates are to Wolfe - his brothers.

"I can say there's not a guy on this team that I wouldn't do anything for him," said the 25-year-old defensive lineman who recently signed a four-year, $36.7 million contract to stay with the Broncos.

I can say there's not a guy on this team I wouldn't do anything for him. I consider them my family.  -Derek Wolfe, defensive end

The brotherhood among this defense has been noted time and again this season, but for Wolfe - who grew up without the nurturing care of his biological parents - he really means it when he says the Broncos are his family.

Wolfe was just three months old when his mom married his stepdad. To this day Wolfe has no idea who his real father is and it is only recently that he opened up a small line of communication with his mother - a woman who had wasted his childhood years by being wasted herself most of the time.

With an addict for a mother and an abusive stepfather, Wolfe found solace in the family of his grade school friend Logan Hoppel. Eventually he moved in permanently with the Hoppels and thrived in their household that revolved around farm life and instilled a strong work ethic that carries through Wolfe today. They are also responsible for getting the wayward boy involved in wrestling and football at Beaver Local East High School.

"Growing up my teammates were always my family. I considered them my family, and at this level, I do the same thing," said the 25-year-old who recently signed a four-y'ear contract to stay with the Broncos. "Even in college I still consider some of those guys I played with family, my brothers."

Wolfe attracted many college recruiters to his rural town of Negley, Ohio, when they saw his stats - a 6-foot-5 defensive lineman who tallied 30 tackles, 5.5 sacks, nine tackles for a loss and five deflections in 10 games - but he chose University of Cincinnati in part because Logan's older brother was there and Wolfe's "family" would still be close.

"I am a strong believer that in life you're going to become who you have around you," Wolfe was quoted as saying recently, adding that the Hoppel brothers and another pair of brothers - Josh and Jamin Pastores - "kept me straight. They taught me how to treat people, how to work hard and how to get results from that hard work."

It paid off big-time as Wolfe became a standout at Cincinnati, accumulating 162 total tackles, 37 tackles for loss and 19.5 sacks. When he was selected 36th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft by the Broncos, he became the first (and so far only) kid from his high school to go to the pros.

Four years later Wolfe is staring down his second Super Bowl with the Broncos but the first that he'll get to play in. When the Broncos prepared for Super Bowl 48, they had been without the services of Wolfe for two months after he had had seizures related to a spinal injury from a preseason game.

So this game would already mean a lot to Wolfe since it will be the first Super Bowl in which he gets to contribute. But it's really special to him because of who he is going with. And the defense this year is a particularly close group.

"We've been a tight-knit group for a long time but even more so this year," Wolfe says. "We're battle-tested."

That's almost an understatement because more often than not it has been the defense, with its heels firmly planted, being asked to stop an opponent on fourth down, create a turnover, get a score or do something magnificent in order for the team to pull out a victory.

And more often than not they've done just that.

Some players don't battle back from [adversity] but Derek took care of his business and when he came back to our team he was ready to roll.   -Gary Kubiak

"They've been awesome but they get your heart pounding," Wolfe says of the outcomes of the Broncos' games this season. "They're the kind of games that define your team, tell you who you are. When it's time, in the clutch like that, not looking good, there's a turnover or something...we thrive in those situations."

Not only does the defense thrive, Wolfe says, players relish and hope for such circumstances.

"We know what we got to do. We don't have to say anything," No. 95 says, pointing out it's exactly like a family. "When things get tough, you come together. That's exactly what we do."

Wolfe credits the coaching staff - from Wade Phillips to Gary Kubiak - for instilling this mindset among the team.

"We treat each other like family; spend time with each other on and off the field; we all get along on and off the field," Wolfe says. "It's made it really easy because we mesh really well."

In praising his defensive end, Kubiak highlighted that Wolfe has used his fighting mentality to his advantage to overcome some adversity - including the injury in 2013 and a four-week suspension at the beginning of the 2015 season - and battle back to being a major contributor on the defense this year.

"Derek has been really special," Kubiak said this week, noting that Wolfe and Malik Jackson have combined this year to be a massive force in stopping quarterbacks and running backs for the Broncos defense. Between the two interior linemen, quarterbacks have been sacked 11 times this year.

But injuries and suspensions can sometimes knock a player's motivation right out. But not fighters.

"Some players don't battle back from that, but Derek took care of his business and when he came back to our team he was ready to roll," Kubiak said. "So give him a lot of credit [for]his discipline to stay ready to play."

Wolfe ranked 10th among the best DEs this year, according to Pro Football Focus. In his 12 regular season games, Wolfe amassed 36 tackles, 5.5 sacks and four blocked passes.

But for Wolfe, battling back was always a given. He likes being down and fighting back to win.

"It's been my whole life. It's my comfort zone. That's my comfort zone," Wolfe admits. "That's how it's been all season and I don't expect any different this game."

The good news for Wolfe is that he won't be battling alone - he'll be doing it with his brothers.