ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For the first seven years after his father was murdered, Diontae Spencer focused on his own healing.
Clifton Williams, Spencer's dad, was shot to death in his barber shop in 2010 — and Spencer was left without a father.
The 18-year-old Spencer was just a freshman at McNeese State in Louisiana, and at that time, he didn't see the positives he could one day derive from his family's tragedy.
He does now, as he'll honor his father's legacy during the Broncos' Week 14 game against the Houston Texans. As part of the NFL's My Cause My Cleats initiative, Spencer is raising awareness and money for Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization looking to end gun violence.
"It's one of those things where at the time, you're just dealing with the whole situation," Spencer said this week ahead of Sunday's game. "You're not really focused on getting a positive out of it. And now it's come full circle, just to have the chance to just show the world — to wear those cleats and just let people know the situation and what it means to go out there and support that organization."
Everytown was founded in 2013 when Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America merged, and the combined effort has attracted more than two million members who aim to influence policy making. The organization — which supports universal background checks, educational programs and laws that prevent gun trafficking — appealed to Spencer.
He said he's started to come to terms with his father's death over the last two years. Now, he's trying to do his part to make sure others don't lose loved ones to gun violence.
"I would say about two years ago, I finally was able to just talk about it more," Spencer said. "I put it out there what I had been through and just [tried to] take some positive from it, and just shared my story. There's so many kids that lose parents and many different ways — not just gun violence. It's one of those things where you can just look at the situation and pull out all the positives and just move forward."
Spencer grew up in New Iberia, Louisiana — which is in the southern part of the state and a little less than 150 miles west of New Orleans — and said gun violence was a common theme of his childhood.
"It's one of those things, man, growing up in New Iberia where I'm from, there's a lot of gun violence, a lot of gang violence," Spencer said. "It just touched me. It just hit home, because I kind of grew up not around it, but I was aware of it. It was an easy choice [to support Everytown]."
According to data from the Center of Disease Control, there were nearly 14 firearm-related homicides per 100,000 people in Louisiana in 2017. The national average that year was fewer than five firearm-related homicides per 100,000 people.
In 2018, the federal government announced the violent crime rate near Spencer's hometown had decreased through the use of Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program created by President George W. Bush in 2001 to research methods to prevent gun violence. As part of the enforcement, the U.S. Attorney's office in that district of Louisiana prosecuted three times the number of individuals as in previous years, according to the Daily Iberian.
But Spencer hopes to do more to prevent other families from meeting the same fate as his.
"In the world we live in today, guns are just so easily obtained and [easy to] get a hold of. And you never know what could happen," Spencer said. "… Any time you can keep guns off the street and keep people safer around their homes and their communities, it's a huge success. Hopefully we can spread that message and move forward."
Spencer will help spread that message this weekend when he wears the cleats against the Texans. As the team's punt returner and kick returner, Spencer often picks up speed to the point where his cleats are a blur. His family, though, will know the shoes say "Can't stop, won't stop" no matter how fast his feet move Sunday. It was his father's motto, and it's one that Spencer tries to live by.
It means not giving up. It means continuing to push forward. And it means finding a way to make an impact despite the tragedy he has endured.
"It's just one of those things where I'm just blessed, man," Spencer said. "And any way I can spread some positive vibes or good energy out in the world, coming from my situation and making it a positive is just a blessing."
Members of Spencer's family will make the trip west from New Iberia to Houston this weekend — and he considered what it would be like to score his first NFL touchdown in cleats that honor his father.
"It would mean a lot," Spencer said. "… Just having those cleats on, knowing the significance of the game in general and seeing all my family there, it would be huge."