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'It's really important for me to come back here': Broncos President Damani Leech shares career journey, offers advice to 2023 NCAA intern cohort

INDIANAPOLIS — Damani Leech returned to his roots on Wednesday.

The Broncos' team president had a lengthy resume when he arrived in Denver in 2022 — one that included stops as the Chief Operating Officer of NFL International, eight total years at the league office and more than 17 years of experience at the NCAA national office.

One of the first stops on his eventual journey to Denver, though, was as an NCAA intern in Indianapolis. And on Wednesday, Leech spoke to nearly a dozen current interns who held the same role that Leech once did.

Over the course of 90 minutes, Leech spoke to this year's intern cohort about his path to his current role and offered advice as they begin careers of their own. Leech also hosted a significant question-and-answer segment, as he answered more than a dozen questions.

The opportunity arose after Leech spoke to a smaller number of interns on Zoom and meeting one in Denver. When he had a chance to return in the midst of the 2023 NFL Combine to speak to the whole group, he leapt at it.

"As a former intern, it's really important for me to come back here, have a chance to meet with them, share my experiences, lessons learned — all those good things," Leech said.

Leech, who has traveled far from one of his initial roles in sports, said he recognized the importance of paying it forward to the next generation.

"When you're an intern, it's a very unsettling part of your career and your life and you're wondering about what your next steps are going to be," Leech said. "You're in a cohort of people. It's somewhat competitive. People start getting jobs. There's a lot of uncertainty, and I've been there. And I just wanted to share my story and some of the things I've learned along the way."

On Wednesday, Team President Damani Leech visited with a group interns at the NCAA national office, where he spent more than 17 years, to share insights from his career and answer questions about working in sports.

The Broncos' president also recognized the significant role the internship played in his professional development. Leech said the lessons he learned as an intern have continued to serve him throughout his career, including his current role with the Broncos.

"I think the message that I tried to impart today was don't presume to know where you can find professional happiness," Leech said. "The world of sports and sports business is actually pretty broad. Ultimately, people want people who are going to work hard, who are going to know their stuff and be good people. If you can do those things and you're willing to work in a variety of industries and roles, you're going to find professional success and probably professional happiness."

As an intern himself, Leech certainly could not have foretold the success that would follow over the coming years. He held leadership positions with the NCAA and NFL office before joining the Broncos in August.

"Definitely not," Leech said of if he could have predicted his journey. "Early on in my career, I didn't really understand the size and scope of sports business, the different roles that people had. Early on in my career, my dream job was to be the athletic director at Stanford. I think [for]everybody in their career, things evolve. The industry evolves. Your personal tastes and things that you're interested in evolve. And I allowed … for those different things to happen and take me to different places in my career."

No matter where he has been in his sports career, Leech believes there's an underlying commonality between both his time at the NCAA and in a number of NFL roles.

"Fandom is the core thread that runs through it all and understanding while it's a very big business and there are a lot of fans around the world, it's ultimately a very personal thing," Leech said. "Your ability to tap into that — I talk about it as goosebump moments. Really from like a marketing and game-presentation standpoint, trying to foster those goosebump moments and really create those emotional connections for fans to teams and universities runs across all sports."

On Wednesday, Leech may well have created a goosebump moments for the current group of interns looking to follow in his path.

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