ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — NFL players pick up plenty of keepsakes coming from plenty of sources, from fellow players to adoring fans to other gift-givers. But Tuesday afternoon provided Demaryius Thomas a unique memento, one that brought a big smile his face: two challenge coins from a military airman attending Broncos practice following the USAA's Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp.
"I got the best things today," said Thomas, proudly showing off one coin in each hand. "Nobody else can say this on the team."
In nine years in the league, Thomas has received military badges before, but the challenge coins — exchanged for a signed No. 88 jersey — were a new gift. He isn't completely sure where he'll keep the coins, but he's thinking they'll be right by his side throughout the 2018 campaign.
The Broncos and USAA hosted USAA's Salute to Service NFL Boot Camp for 55 active duty military members at Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse on Tuesday. Afterward, they watched practice and met Broncos players and President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway.
"I'm trying to decide if they're going to travel with me for the season or if I'm going to keep them in the locker room or take them home," Thomas said. "I think I'm going to travel with them."
The Broncos hosted 55 active duty military members — as well as former stars Ed McCaffrey and Rod Smith — at the UCHealth Training Center's Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse for a "Boot Camp" that included a variety of drills featured at the NFL Combine, including the 40-yard dash. The service members then watched the Broncos practice and headed down to the field to meet the players.
Thomas has first-hand knowledge of and appreciation for the military. His father has been a service member for about 30 years and began serving before Thomas was even born. While all of the Broncos' players stopped by to interact with the visitors on Tuesday, it was clear the post-practice session was a very meaningful one for Thomas especially. He stayed on the practice field — signing autographs, taking pictures and talking and laughing with the various military members who were in attendance — long after most of his teammates had departed for the locker room or the weight room.
"Growing up around it, it's always good to give back," said Thomas, a big smile spreading across his face. "I just get excited because those guys do some honorable things for us. ... I'm thankful for them, we're thankful for them, I'm sure y'all are thankful for them as well. It's always good to see them come out and support, and we can support them back."
The Broncos and USAA hosted 55 active duty military members to watch practice and meet players afterward on Tuesday.