ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Three weeks ago, six unlikely guests lined up in the east end zone of the Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse at UCHealth Training Center and greeted Justin Simmons, who walked into the field house unaware of the surprise that awaited him.
A Denver Broncos Boys & Girls Club member addressed Simmons first, reminding the Broncos safety of when they shopped for school supplies together.
Then, a local PE teacher spoke of how Simmons picking one of his student's designs for his cleats from last year's "My Cause My Cleats" initiative inspired the student, the school and the community.
A major in the U.S. Air Force, a UCHealth MANtenance Ambassador and cancer survivor, the head football coach at Denver South High School and a Denver South High School player all took a turn to remind Simmons of how they met and how he impacted them.
For all the children, teachers, veterans and countless other community members, spending time with Justin Simmons is unforgettable.
For Simmons, his time spent in the community is equally memorable. The guests' stories may have captured small moments, but Simmons recognized each of them and gave the speakers a handshake or a hug after they finished recalling their memories.
"You give a little bit of your time, shake some hands, sign some autographs that goes a long way," Simmons acknowledged. "Not even just for a benefit for me, but just a long way for them."
At the end of the line, Simmons' wife, Taryn, and daughter, Laney, delivered the surprise announcement that Simmons is the Broncos' 2019 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee.
Allie Engelken, Executive Director of Community Development, and Liz Mannis, Senior Manager of Community Development, unveiled a framed "WPMOY 31" jersey.
"Wow," Simmons said. "I cannot believe this. Wow."
Simmons has contributed more than 3,500 minutes with 20 different local organizations in 2019, working in the five areas of Youth Development, Hunger Relief, Health & Wellness, Youth Football and Civic Engagement.
Though Simmons was surprised by the nomination, his consistent involvement in the community makes him an unsurprising nominee.
"Justin is a staple at every single team event and teammate event, throughout the years," Engelken said. "No event is too big, no event is too small, and the relationships that he built with individuals in this community is unmatched by any player."
The six guests, Simmons' family and the Broncos kept the announcement a secret for the next 21 days, until Simmons' nomination was announced in a team meeting this morning.
But Simmons' community involvement is no secret — his coaches and teammates can't help but notice his work off the field.
"Justin is a guy that is very deserving of that award," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "I know he puts in a lot of time off the field helping other people. The thing about it too with Justin, I think he really enjoys doing it and does it for all the right reasons, and it's a great honor for him."
Simmons says his parents and his faith led him to become so involved in the Denver metro area.
"My parents used to always talk to me about giving back, and one of the best gifts that you can give to someone else is your time," Simmons said.
His upbringing has spurred Simmons to be involved in whatever city or state he calls home. Cornerback Isaac Yiadom, who played with Simmons at Boston College, can attest to that.
"He deserves [the nomination]. It's no surprise," Yiadom said. "If anybody has earned that award, it's definitely Justin. And that's just the type of person he's been his whole entire life, all through college and in the NFL, nothing's ever changed him. So, he's always been a person that loves giving back, loves being out there for his community."
To announce the team's 2019 Denver Broncos Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nomination, several members of the community surprised Justin Simmons to tell him how he's made an impact on them.
Simmons has dedicated the most time and resources of any Broncos player through four seasons with the team. He regularly dons his "Be a Champion in the Community" No. 31 jersey, or his teammates' "Shop with a Jock" T-shirts.
The Broncos' previous nominees, most recently outside linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., have noticed.
"You see Justin, he puts in the work with the community," Harris Jr. said. "He definitely deserves it because he is definitely taking time that he has free to make a commitment to the community."
As part of the nomination, and courtesy of the NFL Foundation and Nationwide, Simmons will receive a donation of up to $50,000 in his name to his charity of choice — the International Justice Mission.
The winner of the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award, who will be announced at the NFL Honors award show on Feb. 1, will receive a $250,000 donation to the charity of their choice.
Regardless if he wins the league-wide award, Simmons plans to start his own foundation during the offseason. He and Taryn have been planning its creation and taking note of how other Broncos players run their organizations.
But the foundation is yet to come and the Broncos still have three games left this season, so Simmons packed his framed, commemorative WPMOY jersey safely into his car on Thursday.
A decal will adorn Simmons' helmet through the end of the season as a testament to his dedication to the community and a celebration of his WPMOY nomination, though Simmons emphasizes his efforts aren't for the recognition.
"I had no idea that I was even close to being able to be considered Walter Payton Man of the Year," Simmons said. "I thought you had to do all this different stuff. So many guys that are deserving on this team that go to so many different events and give so much of their time to the community and charities and organizations.
"So, to be recognized as one of those guys and be a representative for the Broncos, it is truly humbling."