Many local sports fans long for the days when the Denver Broncos held training camp in Greeley.
For Reggie Rivers, the feeling is mutual.
Rivers — who played running back for the Broncos from 1991-1996 — said he can’t wait to be back in Greeley in a few weeks.
Rivers will be the guest speaker and master of ceremonies when The Greeley Tribune, District 6 and City of Greeley join forces to host the Best Preps banquet on May 29 at the University of Northern Colorado Ballroom.
“I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for Greeley,” Rivers said. “As a person who was inside the fence at training camp, to see people show up early in the morning, sitting out there in the hot sun, watching all the practices, watching the morning practice, hanging out during lunch time, coming back to watch the afternoon practice — just the commitment and the sacrifice that people make, it is humbling.”
The Broncos trained in Greeley from 1982 to 2002.
The support Weld County has showered upon the Broncos can perhaps only be matched by the support the local fan base offers to its prep sports teams.
Such will be evident during the Best Preps banquet later this month.
One guest at the banquet will win a football autographed by Rivers.
The event is a business casual, semi-formal affair recognizing the best and brightest local student-athletes. Nominees for the various awards will have their Best Preps evening sponsored by a local corporate sponsor.
Check-in begins at 5 p.m., doors will open at 5:30 for seating, dinner begins at 6 p.m., followed by the program at 7 p.m.
In Rivers’ six seasons with the Broncos, he had 675 receiving yards, 428 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns while being a key contributor on special teams.
Rivers said one of the reasons Greeley has such a special spot in his heart is because as an undrafted rookie in 1991, he didn’t think his pro football career would extend beyond training camp in Greeley, on the University of Northern Colorado campus.
“When I came up here (to Colorado) from San Antonio to try out for the Denver Broncos in 1991, the first place I went was Greeley, Colorado,” he said. “I went to training camp, and I thought that training camp was going to be the only NFL experience I ever had. I thought, I’ll be in camp for four years, I’ll have some fun stories to tell, and I’ll go on with my life.”
Instead, Rivers found himself contributing to a roster that included greats like John Elway, Shannon Sharpe and Karl Mecklenburg.
Rivers said his favorite memory from his six-year career was a blocked punt he had against the Kansas City Chiefs in 1993.
“I blocked this punt, it was in the fourth quarter, this was the Elway versus (Joe) Montana game and we ended up winning that game,” Rivers said. “Shannon Sharpe scored three touchdowns in that game. So, in my six-year career, that was the one big play I made that turned the tide of the game. It might have been the game-winning play.
“If you’re John Elway or Shannon Sharpe or Terrell Davis, you probably have 15, 20 or several dozen plays like that. But, for Reggie Rivers, there was one, and that was it.”
Since retiring from football in 1996, Rivers has served as a media personality for various outlets in the Denver area. He also serves as a motivational speaker.
Rivers recently conducted a “TED talk” for one of the TED organization’s prominent conferences.
“Reggie shares our enthusiasm for high school athletes, Colorado, and he is known for impactful, thought-provoking messages that are implemented by athletes, coaches & corporations to facilitate personal and professional achievement,” Tribune Advertising Director Bryce Jacobson said.
The Best Preps banquet will celebrate the accomplishments of athletes from 18 Weld County high schools, competing in 20 sports throughout the course of the school year.
As someone who has experienced sports at all levels, Rivers said he believes strongly in high school athletics as a tool for developing youth.
“It’s hard to rank what’s most important, but for me, high school athletics has to be in the top 2 or 3 things that young people can do to prepare themselves for life,” Rivers said. “There is so much that you learn from being in a sport, being part of a team, challenging yourself physically, dealing with fatigue, dealing with the scheduling challenges that athletes have of playing a sport and going to school.”
Among the awards that will be presented, The Tribune will name an overall boy and girl Athlete of the Year for the entire 2013-14 school year, as well as Athletes of the Year for the fall, winter and spring seasons.
The Tribune will also recognize standouts from each individual sport.
Rivers replaces Jim Perry, who was previously announced as the banquet’s guest speaker.
“When you have an event like this and you’re really celebrating the kids who have done it well, the kids who have great talent, have great work ethic, have great focus and they have proven to be the best of the best among their peers — that is great for the whole community, it’s great for those kids, it’s great for other kids who are aspiring to achieve those same things,” Rivers said.