ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Kalif Raymond has spent the last several months sweating.
Since the end of the Denver Broncos season, life has consisted mostly of eating, sleeping, and training. During the winter months, Raymond worked out three to four times per day in a mission to prepare his mind and body for the rigors that lie in front of him.
He has no other choice.
“I know what I want my body to look like and I know what I want me to look like and I know what I want my technique to look like,” Raymond said. “Right now, I’m just training. Day-to-day, I’ll definitely get some running in, a lift in, get some ball-catching in, and probably another lift at night. But, it’s looking really good. I’m hoping I’ll come into OTA’s hit the ground running.”
Raymond was a bubble prospect the Broncos signed as an undrafted rookie out of Holy Cross prior to training camp last season. He impressed there, earning enough praise from his coaches to win a spot on Denver’s practice squad for the first eleven games of the season.
In the second half of the season, the scrappy and speedy 5’9” return specialist was given the call-up by head coach Gary Kubiak and awarded a spot on the team’s active roster. He appeared in five regular season games with the Broncos last year, adding life to a return game that had been stagnant for most of that season. Raymond returned 11 punts for a nearly 11-yard per return average.
“Looking back, it was definitely a good experience. I’m definitely glad I got that amount of games under my belt,” Raymond said. “I definitely think it helped a lot. I’m looking forward to this year just because I actually have five games worth of experience under my belt. Now, I can go out there and play within myself.”
However, that was then. This is now.
Head coach Gary Kubiak left the Broncos for retirement at the end of the season and it initiated a full scale turnover of Denver’s coaching staff. Many of the coaches who had become advocates of Raymond’s are no longer in the building. With offseason activities now underway, the 22-year-old Georgia native now has to prove himself to an entirely new set of coaches.
That’s not new for Kalif Raymond, though. He’s faced an uphill climb his entire football life. As a high school senior, knowing all the tribulations that would come with being an undersized receiver out of a small school in Georgia, Raymond took time to personally email his contact information and highlights to coaches around college football.
He sent more than 100 schools his information. Two replied. One of them—Holy Cross offered him a scholarship. Thus, he packed up and moved to Massachusetts.
Proving himself is nothing new.
“I’ve kind of always been an underdog,” Raymond said. “Whether it’s been my size, how many offers I got or this or that, I feel like that kind of fits right into my personality. I’m a smaller guy obviously, so every time I step on the field whether it’s at receiver, punt return, kick return, I’ve got to prove myself. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Raymond hasn’t been much of a conversation topic around the league this offseason. However, players at his position have. Incoming draft picks like Christian McCaffrey and Ryan Switzer have stolen headlines as potential kick returners or slot receivers that the Broncos could target in the draft. Obviously, if Denver did select one of those talented prospects, it could put Raymond out of a job.
However, Raymond doesn’t take offense at those kinds of suggestions. He takes them as motivation.
“There’s more than enough work that I need to do in order to prove to myself and to this team that I belong here and I’m their guy,” Raymond said. “With these guys coming in, it’s competition. That’s what it’s always going to be. I’m excited to work with the guys. I’m excited to compete against them and whatever that first rep comes my way, I’ll be ready to attack it full speed.”
That competition, Raymond said, is what has driven him throughout the offseason and will be what drives him during the Broncos ongoing OTA’s all the way through training camp.
“When I’m working out, I don’t see it as competing against myself,” Raymond said. “I’m competing against other guys. I’m trying to make sure that when I work and I go out there and I’m getting ready for OTA’s and I’m getting ready for camp that I’m competing not just with Kalif, but that I’m competing with all the other guys around the league trying to do the same thing I am and that’s make the team. I’m excited and I’m motivated.”
For Raymond, the process began on Monday with the first day of voluntary offseason workouts. It marked the first time he’d talked to any coach on the roster besides head coach Vance Joseph, who talked to Raymond shortly after being hired to replace Kubiak.
Their conversation had little to do with Raymond’s role on the team or the odds he makes the final roster. Instead, the two simply talked about being ready to come in and compete at the highest level to prepare for his second season in the NFL.
“It was mostly just an idea of working hard and get ready to work and get ready to go,” Raymond said. “I figure coming in there was one thing I could control and that’s how hard I work. If that stays consistent, then hard work can get me through. I’m sure they’ll appreciate it if I come in and work my tail off.”