Denver Broncos Tight End Virgil Green Ready to Seize His Opportunity
For the first time in his five-year NFL career – all with the Denver Broncos – Virgil Green’s name stands atop the tight end depth chart. Though he’s technically started seventeen career games and found intermittent success, Green has long stood in the shadow of superstar Julius Thomas who signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars this offseason. The Broncos brought on veteran tight end Owen Daniels for padding and tutelage, but with a new three-year contract Green is finally set to become one of Peyton Manning’s primary targets this season. Monstrously-sized at 6’5 and 255 pounds, Green is more than the next man up. With a cocktail of natural ability, NFL mileage, and a litany of role models that have kept him grounded, Green is chomping at the bit to seize his opportunity on the field. Like he’s already done off it.
Recently, Green had an important meeting with the Denver chapter of United Way to map out his community strategy for the year. He’s been involved with United Way for most of his NFL career and while the organization has a visible partnership with the NFL’s Play60 program that promotes physical activity in youth, Green is far more interested in its education arm.
His enthusiasm is obvious as he talks about implementing a new literacy program in Denver-area schools, and unveils plans to corral a bevy of local business professionals to serve as another type of role model for the budding minds of area children.
“You see all the glam that comes with this job, but without education I don’t make it this far. Period,“ Green said.
Green grew up in Tulare, California, about 45 miles southeast of Fresno, the son of loving but strict parents. While other kids would sneak out or break curfew, Green, who says that his father, Virgil, “knew how to get us to obey orders,” stayed away from the temptations of trouble. Green’s parents mandated that he maintain a 3.0 grade average in high school, even though a 2.0 was the requirement for athletic eligibility. ‘I’m not going to have any mediocre kids,’ Green recalls his mother, Sharon, saying.
Once in high school, the multi-sport star athlete had an important basketball game on the same day grades came out. When Sharon discovered that Green had just slipped below a 3.0, she immediately called the coach and informed him that her son would not be playing that night.
“That’s how important education was to her,” Green said.
Green gushes about the work ethic instilled by his parents, all in the face of humble beginnings. He credits their value system for his success and their tough mindset for his ability to persevere in the face of uncertainty. Like when he got to Nevada and his college football career was almost halted before it began.
As an eighteen-year old freshman, Green had the world at his fingertips. He had a scholarship to play football at Nevada and was simultaneously getting his first taste of real freedom, falling hard for a girl named Marianne, and rooming with a then-unknown but pretty intriguing quarterback named Colin Kaepernick. Everything was lined up for a special college experience. But Green couldn’t shake the knee pain he had experienced since high school, the result of a rapid growth spurt. It was worsening.
Before Green took a college snap, a doctor at Nevada delivered the worst news a football player can hear: Green required microfracture surgery and may never be able to play football again.
Mentally shaken, but not one to give up Green proceeded with rehab. He hated everything about it.
“I’m not someone who thinks about depression much but if there’s ever a time I was depressed, it was then,” he said.
Just about the only solace for Green was his budding relationship with Marianne. Simply having her there physically during the toughest time of his life cemented his love and her unwavering support cemented his quest to resume his football career. They would marry in 2013.
Green returned to the field as a sophomore ready to make his mark. He excelled in school, and already infused with a strong moral compass, frequently volunteered with the Boys and Girls Club of America.
Green and Marianne were not the only blossoming relationship. As Green and Kaepernick spent more time together on and off the field, their friendship turned into a kinship. Green speaks of Kaepernick’s parents, Rick and Teresa, as if they were his own second set of parents. Like all successful relationships, Green jokes that he and Kaepernick discovered compromise was key. “He likes the room real hot. I don’t so I had to sleep by a window.“
Green showing off his athleticism at Nevada
After Green finished his Nevada career with 72 receptions for 939 yards and 11 touchdowns, he was selected by the Broncos in the 7th round of the 2011 draft.
But like his college career, Green’s professional career began with a hiccup: a lockout that wiped away all the events of acclimation – minicamps, OTAs and a symposium – catered to rookies. While fellow rookie tight end Julius Thomas was NFL-ready, Green admits he needed that extra education.
“It took me awhile to understand how the game works, how teams work,” he said.
After a ho-hum rookie year, everything would change when the Broncos signed a quarterback named Peyton Manning who Green says exemplifies “how to be a true professional.”
Though Green organically began understanding and executing concepts, it was the contagiousness of Manning’s infamous dedication to his craft that helped catapult his game.
“If I ever mess up under Peyton, I’ll never mess up again,” he said.
Green will never forget a Denver-Kansas City game at Arrowhead two years ago. It was Monday Night Football and the team got back at 4 AM. Because they typically ride on the same bus, Green noticed Manning was already studying film for the next opponent.
“I’m like, ‘goodness gracious, bro, do you ever let your brain relax?’ You just got out of this game where you had Justin Houston, Tamba Hali and Dontari Poe running at you.”
An offseason night for Green typically involves hanging out with Marianne in their recently purchased home in Parker, a suburb of Denver. It also may involve playing online dominoes with Thomas, or a session of NBA2K with another former teammate, Knowshon Moreno. These days, it always involves mimicking number 18.
“At some point tonight I’m going to get in my playbook for a couple of hours. I want to make sure my teammates can count on me; we all know we can count on Peyton,” Green said.
With training camp approaching and the eyes of Broncos fans and fantasy football owners on him, Green may be enjoying last vestiges of relative anonymity. A quiet guy, he craves normalcy. Even though Green’s new contract will pay him $3.2 million in 2015, he strategically lives life as if he has no money.
“I look at the gas price and say, ‘dang,’ or I try not to eat out that much because you just really burn money that way,“ Green said.
Green’s impressive value system has been shaped by his parents, his injury, his wife and his quarterbacks. Despite an affinity for video games, he carries a refreshing maturity and sense of perspective well beyond his 26 years.
“If you think because I’m in the NFL, I’m supposed to be super cool. I’m not this super cool guy who does super cool things, I just play football.”
Luckily for the Denver community, Green does more than play football.