Teen center to open in slain Bronco's memory

DENVER -- Finally, there will be some peace here.

The pain will live forever, yet some sense will be made of a tragedy that shook the Denver Broncos nearly 1½ years ago.

Darrent Williams will be more than a sad memory. Come Thursday, the name of the smallest starter in the NFL during the 2005 and 2006 seasons will become a permanent fixture in the Denver community. It will play a major role in developing the future of its youth.

The Darrent Williams Memorial Teen Center will be dedicated this week in Montbello, a challenged section of the city. The center will be an extension of the Broncos' affiliation with the Boys & Girls Clubs Of America. The center, which cost about $600,000, will serve as an academic and social safe haven for teens.

Williams, who in just two seasons in Denver became a franchise and fan favorite, was heavily involved with the team's community arm and was particularly linked with Boys & Girls Clubs' endeavors. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Fort Worth, Texas, the fearless 5-foot-8 starting right cornerback and punt returner had been a Boys & Girls Club kid.

Some kind of good will be birthed out of a tragedy.

"Until now, whenever I heard Darrent Williams' name, I've been sad the past year and a half," said Broncos cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who became close with Williams after they became teammates in 2005.

"After Thursday, whenever I hear Darrent Williams' name, I'll have a smile on my face. Thursday will be one of the happiest days of my life."

Foxworth deserves the impending happiness. It's been a long road for him and for his Broncos teammates, most of whom are expected to attend the opening ceremony along with Williams' family.

On Dec. 31, 2006, the Broncos' season had just ended. The day was perhaps the lowest point in team history since Denver had blown a playoff game against Jacksonville in 1996.

All the Broncos had to do was beat lowly San Francisco, which had nothing to play for in the season finale, at home to advance to the playoffs. The Broncos looked well on their way to a wild-card-round game in New England with a dominating performance against the 49ers, leading 13-3 at the half. But the Broncos lost urgency in the second half and ended up shocked in overtime by the 49ers. The season ended just like that.

After the game, many Denver players, including Williams, displayed their disgust for the blown game. Williams said the Broncos had to find a way to protect their home turf. Then, with very few teammates remaining in the locker room, Williams excused himself. He was playing host to a New Year's Eve party in a couple of hours.

Eight hours later, the on-field disaster meant little.

Williams, who was 24, was shot and killed in downtown Denver in a rented limousine. The still-unsolved murder was Denver's first in 2007, and it brought this city to its knees.

The loss of Williams hung over the Broncos all of last season as they limped to a 7-9 finish, only the second losing season in Mike Shanahan's 13 years as Broncos coach. There were reminders of Williams' death all year. Several players placed memorials to the cornerback in their lockers. Before a game, the team honored Williams' mother along with the wife of reserve running back Damien Nash, who died 55 days after Williams because of a heart issue.

Thursday likely will be the Broncos' final formal tribute to Williams. But this one will last forever.

Many Broncos players and coaches saw to it that this project, which cost about $125,000 more than originally estimated,
came to fruition. Money came from Shanahan's golf tournament, the public sale of Broncos license-plate holders, private donations and donations from Denver coaches and players. Receiver Javon Walker, who now plays in Oakland, gave $30,000 to the cause. Walker sat next to Williams in the limo when he was killed.

Soon after Williams' death, key members of the Denver organization began to envision this center, for which teens in the area had been clamoring. Broncos vice president of community development Cindy Galloway-Kellogg has been at the forefront of the project.

"It's been such a journey, and we're almost there," she said. "Darrent was becoming one of our most involved players and he had such an impact on young kids in such a short time. We just had to do this. … We had to make sure something good came out of this horrible, horrible tragedy."

Galloway-Kellogg said the center never would have gone past the pipe-dream stage had it not been for Foxworth. Almost immediately after Williams' death, Foxworth started teaching weekly writing classes at the Boys & Girls Club. He has been a part of the team that has overseen the project from conception. Last season, he coaxed nearly 50 teammates to attend a fundraiser at the future site of the teen center -- at 6 a.m. on an off day.

"I don't want to overstate this, and I don't think I am, but this place is going to save lives," Foxworth said. "This is going to give kids a chance at life. Darrent was one of those kids. This place is going to be special. And it keeps Darrent's name alive."

Members of Williams' family have long praised the Broncos' treatment of them in the wake of their loved one's murder. The center is just another step.

"There are going to be a lot of emotions for sure," said Williams' uncle, Demond Williams. "It's been such a tough time for us, but to know that something so permanent and so meaningful will be in Denver under Dee's name is beyond special. It helps us."

Bill Williamson covers the NFL for ESPN.com.