ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In college, Chris Manhertz was the Garbage Man.
On the basketball court for the Canisius Golden Griffins, Manhertz prided himself on rebounding and defending — a self-described "bruiser in the paint."
He was both a great teammate and somebody you never wanted to face.
"[I was] probably one of those guys that you hate playing against," Manhertz said in a recent interview.
The 6-foot-6, 235-pound player averaged 6.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game in a career in which he started 94 games over his final three seasons. Manhertz finished his career ranked fourth in school history with 789 rebounds.
A three-time team captain, Manhertz took pride in his role.
Nearly a decade later, the Broncos' tight end has that same sense of pride, even if he now has a different job.
Manhertz's football career didn't begin until after his final season in Buffalo with Canisius, as a Bills scout identified him as a prospect with the potential ability to change sports.
That transition didn't occur overnight. The transaction history on Manhertz's Pro Football Reference page is lengthy. The Bills waived Manhertz in August of 2015, and he spent time on the Saints' practice squad that season before he appeared in his first game in September of 2016.
"It all stemmed from an opportunity of me being in Buffalo and a scout from the Buffalo Bills kind of kicking the tires and invited me to work out and see what type of skills and traits I had," Manhertz said. "The long story short is that I gave it a shot because I thought I had nothing to lose. The long skinny is we're here now, but it was definitely a challenging process just mentally and physically, just acclimating myself to a new sport. A good portion of that, too, is just having a coaching staff that's patient enough to give you the time to really grow and blossom into what you're capable of being."
Blossom, Manhertz did. He caught on with Carolina later in the 2016 season and appeared in 63 of a possible 64 games from 2017-2020. He then signed in Jacksonville in 2021 and started 21 games — appearing in all 34 — in his two seasons with the Jaguars.
The Broncos signed Manhertz in March in the early stages of free agency, signaling the next chapter in his career. The eighth-year player has far exceeded his own career expectations, and he's done so by embracing the same attitude he held as an enforcer at Canisius.
Catches and touchdown receptions may make the highlight reels, but early on his carer, Manhertz dedicated himself to being a force in the run game.
"I take a lot of pride in it," Manhertz said. "I always look it and say, 'Somebody has to do it. So why not me?' If that's going to increase my ability to be on the field and increase my opportunities and open up opportunities not only for me but the offense as a whole, it's something that I take a great deal of pride in and put it out [as] just the brand of physical football that I've been able to play throughout the course of my career."
Early on, Manhertz chose the route because it increased the likelihood he would make a 53-man roster. In the years since, the approach has proved fruitful.
"I honestly think it all started from just figuring out a way to make a team early on in my career and figuring out ways that I could stick and finding a weak point within the respective tight end rooms that I've been a part of," Manhertz said. "I know there's always going to be a demand, there's always going to be a need for players like that and also just the way, the direction things are going in the run game and setting up certain plays in play action, a lot of that is established off a run game. It's kind of a niche thing, but like I said, I just have the mentality that somebody has to do it. And why not me?"
Much like his role on the basketball court, Manhertz's football persona is about attitude. He estimates 30 percent of the role is about having the right technique, being aware of targets and angles and knowing the scheme. The rest is about mindset.
"I like to think most of it is a mentality, because most of us, just as tight ends, we're all pretty similar in size," Manhertz said. "We all have very similar abilities. It's just a matter of which one you really want to embrace and be good at. That's the way I look at it."
Manhertz joins a Broncos tight end room that features an array of skill sets in Greg Dulcich, Albert Okwuegbunam and Adam Trautman — and he believes in the versatility of the group.
"We all have obviously our different strengths," Manhertz said. "I guess it's on the coach just to plug and play us and put us in positions to be effective and be successful within the offense. I think it works well and it's a very complementary room for us to be able to exploit different things, whether it's in the pass game or the run game."
Perhaps the most intriguing element of Manhertz's own game is the possibility of consistent improvement. By most standards, Manhertz remains new to the game of football. He's made 49 starts in his career and played just over 100 games since entering the league. Compared to those who have spent their whole lives playing football, Manhertz is a relative novice — and that seems to be an asset.
Even in Year 8, Manhertz said he's "constantly" learning and finding ways to improve his game.
"Every year, I always kind of reassess and reevaluate and see what things there are to improve," Manhertz said. "I look back and every year, whether it's a different coach or certain things that go on within a game, there's still a lot to learn. I think that's a career-long process. Whether it be coverages, whether it be technique, whether it be learning certain nuances of the game, I'll always try to figure out certain ways to improve and learn. There's always room for that. I know I started playing football pretty late. It didn't really start slowing down for me until after maybe the third year.
"I know there's a lot of meat left on the bone in that regard."