Over the past three years that Justin Simmons has been the Broncos' nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award, he's consistently maintained that this honor holds a special meaning for him.
"This means way more to me than a lot of other things in the NFL," as he said Tuesday.
That appears to be the case for the league, as well, as it hosted Simmons and other Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominees from around the league on Tuesday for a congratulatory call from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL Senior Vice President of Football Operations Troy Vincent and Man of the Year winners from previous years.
"So much of the focus is on you as a player and your product on the field," Simmons said Tuesday, "and I just think it's amazing that when we're in a setting like that, they highlight it's just as important, if not more important, the work that you do off the field."
The Broncos safety has long known that to be a fact, and he said that his purpose-driven mission stems from the lessons his father taught him years ago when he was growing up.
"He always used to volunteer me and my time in high school to do different community work, whether that be Habitat for Humanity, just serving communities that I'm in, maybe coaching like a Pop Warner team or something like that — he always made sure that he was going to donate my time to other people," Simmons said. "Eventually I had a conversation with him about it, and I'll never forget the lesson that he taught me."
In their household, where faith was a central part of life, Simmons' father pressed upon him that part of life is ensuring an impact on others.
"I do all this because this is going to be a valuable life lesson," his father told him, Simmons recalled. "We are called to a higher purpose, and we are called to serve and love others. From a young age, I've always wanted to teach you that your time is not even your time. You're a steward of God's time, and it's how you use that time while you're here that really counts and that really matters."
When he came to Denver, Simmons brought that passion and perspective, and he was able to learn from other veterans about what he could do as an NFL player. One of those veterans was Demaryius Thomas, who also was passionate about making an impact on children.
After Thomas passed away on Dec. 9, Simmons decided to honor him by donating $88 (for Thomas' jersey number) for every tackle the team made against the Lions. Ultimately, the Broncos made nearly 60 tackles, and Simmons decided to round their tackle total up to that figure, which made for a donation of $5,280.
"I just think about the legacy a lot of people left behind," Simmons said. "Demaryius was just such a great human, and he honestly got me into, along with a lot of other guys, my community work and what I wanted to do. He was just always so present for kids at the [Broncos Boys & Girls] Club. … He always stopped and just wanted to check up on people. And having conversations with Jayden, one of the kids that he probably impacted the most, just being there was so important."
Simmons' work will continue through his charitable organization, the Justin Simmons Foundation, and fans can help him in that effort this winter through the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year presented by Nationwide 2021 Charity Challenge. The nominee who gets the most votes on social media will win an extra $25,000 for the charity of their choice.
Simmons is currently in third place, but fans can add to his vote total by tweeting #WPMOYChallenge + Simmons.