ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The next chapter of the Kendall Hinton story will be written this week in a familiar setting.
The Wake Forest graduate will return to his home state of North Carolina, where he'll get the chance to play in front of some members of his family that have never seen him compete at the NFL level.
When the Broncos take on the Panthers in Week 12, Hinton expects approximately 15 members of his family to descend upon Bank of America Stadium as he continues his unlikely NFL career.
"I'm super excited," Hinton said Tuesday. "I get to play in front of the fam for [the first time in] who knows how long. It's been years."
Hinton's Demon Deacons played in the Belk Bowl at the Panthers' stadium in 2017, but Hinton was injured and was unable to play.
"This will be the first time I step on the [Panthers'] field," Hinton said.
The Broncos last played in Charlotte in 2020, just two weeks after the infamous game against the Saints in which Hinton played quarterback for Denver. Hinton remained on the practice squad for that Broncos win, but he's expected to play his first NFL game in his home state on Sunday.
The North Carolina native did not make it to a Panthers game when he was growing up in Durham — a little more than two hours from Charlotte — or at school in Winston-Salem. Hinton said he did not attend his first NFL game — in any state — until he was with the Broncos in 2020.
Hinton's progressed gradually in his career, moving from his one-game cameo in 2020 to catching 15 passes for 175 yards and a touchdown in 2021. Through eight games in 2022, Hinton has recorded 13 catches for a career-high 227 yards.
"That's what football is — it's all about experience," Hinton said. "I think every rep I get, I'm able to progress. It's the NFL, so it's limited reps. It's just taking advantage of each and every rep and continuing to get better."
As he progresses, Hinton has earned the praise of Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett and Offensive Coordinator Justin Outten in recent weeks. He largely earned that praise following a Week 10 game against the Titans, when he replaced an injured Jerry Jeudy and changed where he lined up after spending the week practicing at another position.
"I don't think anybody could understand what he did at that Tennessee game, starting there," Hackett said Tuesday. "To go as long as he had just working [at] one position and then on very first play the game, he's got to jump to a completely different position. I think that's just a testament to his intelligence, how he understands the system, knows where to line up, all the different spots we can put him and he has been dynamic out there. He's been able to win on one-on-one routes, he's got a lot of shiftiness to him, and when you throw that intelligence in there — obviously, because of his experience as a quarterback — he's been really good for us. We're so happy to have him and have to keep him going."
Hinton has come on in recent weeks, catching seven passes for 119 yards in the last two weeks. Hinton had just seven catches for 108 yards in his first six games combined. With Jeudy and KJ Hamler out of the lineup, Hinton has become more integral in the offense — and he said he's worked to prove himself to his coaches and teammates.
"That's what I bust my ass for, is to get the trust from my coaches and get trust from my teammates," Hinton said. "That's how you get on the field, is doing what you're supposed to and not making mistakes. I take a lot of pride in that."
Hinton's hopeful he can also be help Denver's offense, which has averaged just 14.7 points per game through 10 games.
"We continue to see the glimpses," Hinton said. "We continue to see what we can do. I think it's a matter of being consistent and finishing drives, staying on the field on third down. We've got potential, it's just putting it all together."
In front of his family and in his home state, Hinton will look to take another step in his own career — and perhaps score his first touchdown of the season.
"A lot of people haven't been able to see me play," Hinton said, "so it'll be exciting to do what I love in front of the people I love."