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Denver Broncos WR KJ Hamler says season-ending injury led to necessary mental health help

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For the first time since he suffered knee and hip injuries in the Denver Broncos' Week 3 win over the New York Jets last season, wide receiver KJ Hamler practiced with his teammates Monday.

And his short jog from the locker room to the practice field to open his day was another important step in a physical and emotional recovery from what he called the "lowest point of my life." It is a recovery that has included not only repairing his body, but the discovery he could seek out help for the personal issues that arrived in his life when football was not part of the equation.

"At one point ... the devil was on my back for a while," Hamler said. "I wish I would have never done it by myself, I wish I would have asked for help. ... At one point I didn't want to be here, I didn't want to be in this world. There was one point I didn't want to be on this earth no more."

Hamler, a second-round pick by the Broncos in 2020, was formally activated off the physically unable to perform (PUP) list Monday. He last played in Week 3 last season when, late in the second quarter of a 26-0 win over the Jets, he leaped for a pass from Teddy Bridgewater and landed awkwardly on his left leg.

After doctors evaluated the damage, Hamler learned he had torn the ACL in his left knee and had a hip injury. Both needed surgery, and Hamler soon entered what would be an arduous months-long recovery.

Teammates tried to keep him engaged along the way, but just over two months after his hip surgery, his grandmother, Ethel Gooding -- the person he had described as his "best friend" and "my mother'' -- died at 83.

Hamler said he didn't initially tell anyone how much the combination of his injury, the separation from his teammates during his recovery and the death of his grandmother had impacted him. And that part of "climbing out of that hole" was the realization he needed to take the step of asking for, and seeking, help.

"We just so used to bottling stuff up, taking it to the chin," Hamler said. "I'm just learning each day, day in, day out ... just being back on the field is a big help ... But I checked into therapy, talk to my guys more, talked to my mom, my dad. Therapy is ups and down ... some days you hear what you want to hear, some days it's not the stuff you want to hear ... you don't need to always be alone, you don't need to always isolate yourself.''

Hamler said he will continue to "be vulnerable'' even after his football routine returns to its pre-injury level. On the field, he said he doesn't know if he will be cleared to play in any of the Broncos' three preseason games, but he believes he will be ready to go Week 1 against the Seattle Seahawks.

"It seemed like the right time,'' Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said of Hamler's return to the practice field Monday. "... Every single step you appreciate him more and more. I'm definitely cheering for him.''

"I know everybody around here is proud of me, I'm proud of myself,'' Hamler said. "... There is a lot of people out there that are in my situation or that has been through stuff, you keep stuff held in, it gets bottled up, it's piling up and piling up until it just explodes. I'm not afraid no more to let it be known I was going through that stuff. ... Football brought me back to life, I'm grateful.''