Longtime Broncos safety retires to tackle physical therapy

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Instead of delivering hits to ball carriers, David Bruton Jr. is hitting the books.

The former Denver Broncos safety and special teams ace who announced his retirement Monday after eight seasons in the NFL wants to become a physical therapist.

He began taking prerequisite courses at the University of Colorado-Denver in January and will enter physical therapy school next fall, putting him on pace to get his license by 2022.

Bruton, who once played 77 snaps on a broken leg , said he sustained six concussions in his career, including one that ended his season prematurely last year, and is walking away because he doesn't want to risk more hits to the head.

''I consider myself a thinker and a teacher, and you definitely cannot do either of those things without a functioning brain,'' Bruton said. ''I taught during the lockout back at Miamisburg and I also taught in the locker room, helping guys understand the playbook. There's a chemistry final staring me in the face right now and I need all the brain cells I have.''

Bruton, who majored in political science and sociology at Notre Dame, said his interest in physical therapy dates to his time at Miamisburg (Ohio) High School and only heightened throughout his years in South Bend and the pros, where he played in 108 games, 104 with the Broncos.

''I got to be on the table and see how much work these guys put into getting us back onto the field,'' Bruton said. ''And there's a rewarding factor to getting somebody back to work, getting somebody back to doing what they never thought they could do again. I definitely want to do something rewarding.''

Bruton really began thinking seriously about a career change last fall. Just a few months after signing a three-year, $9 million deal with Washington, Bruton sustained his sixth concussion. The Redskins put him on IR then cut him. He tried out in Baltimore in December but realized his passion for the game was gone.

So, he decided not to risk a seventh concussion.

Bruton said he sometimes suffers from headaches and sensitivity to light and wonders if some of the trouble he had grasping chemistry over the spring semester had anything to do with all the hits he took on the field.

''The first couple of months of school in the spring were tough, but it could have been because of the concussions or it could have been because I'd been out of school for so long,'' Bruton said.

A fourth-round pick in 2009, Bruton was the Broncos' longest-tenured player during their Super Bowl-winning 2015 season. But he was sidelined for Denver's 24-10 win over Carolina in Super Bowl 50 with a broken right leg suffered against Pittsburgh that December. He played 77 snaps in that game after breaking his leg and was healthy by Super Bowl Sunday but was on IR and had to watch from the sideline.

That didn't stop him from getting a Super Bowl 50 tattoo on his rib cage.

On most Fridays, Bruton has been shadowing physical therapists at Next Level Sports Performance in Golden, which is owned by former Broncos assistant athletic trainer Jim Keller. He also plans to observe Broncos director of sports medicine Steve ''Greek'' Antonopulos at training camp next month.

That could give him an itch to return to the field, but Bruton said he won't change his mind.

''I've moved on,'' said Bruton, who now finds his satisfaction reading textbooks rather than poring over playbooks.

---

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

---

Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide—from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Andy Staples, Grant Wahl, and more—delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.