ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Brandon Stokley had a difficult time focusing on football this summer.
The Denver Broncos veteran receiver is still dealing with the death of his father in early June following complications brought on from Alzheimer's disease. Nelson Stokley was 66.
"This has been the toughest offseason of my career," Stokley said Sunday after the opening practice of training camp. "It was a rough one for us as a family, just trying to find ways to make it through."
Nelson Stokley was a former football coach and athletic director at Southwestern Louisiana — now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette — and mentored players such as his son and quarterback Jake Delhomme, who led Carolina to the Super Bowl in 2003 and is beginning his first season with the Cleveland Browns.
The relationships Nelson Stokley cultivated with his players will be something his son always remembers.
"Even when they were done playing, if they ever called him up, he would go out of his way to help," Brandon Stokley said. "They just meant so much to him."
Stokley's father helped his son sharpen his talents, building the foundation for a successful career in the NFL that's spanned more than a decade.
Not bad for a kid who got a late start in football, only playing two years in high school because he was so small.
Despite a growth spurt, Stokley is still hardly a prototypical receiver. He's barely 6-feet tall, barely 190 pounds. But he makes up for his diminutive stature through his work ethic, one in which was instilled by his father.
Stokley's dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's about four years ago, but began to progressively worsen in early January. He could no longer recognize his son near the end.
"That makes it tough. He wouldn't have wanted to be like that, live like that," Stokley said. "I don't think many people would."
Since his father was diagnosed with the disease, Stokley has become heavily involved with raising awareness and money for the Colorado chapter of the Alzheimer's Association.
It's also caused Stokley to ponder his own future and wonder if the same fate awaits him.
"You think about it. But I can't really control that," Stokley said. "I don't know if I'm (predisposed) to it or not. It's something that's not really in my control, so I'm not going to concern myself with it and worry about it right now."
Could his career choice play a role in any dementia down the road?
A number of medical studies, including one commissioned by the NFL, have found that retired pro football players may have a higher rate than normal of Alzheimer's disease and other memory problems.
"It could have an impact," said Stokley, who's had a number of concussions in his career. "But I've been checked out and been cleared. It's one of those things where you can beat yourself up about all the possibilities and scenarios, but I'm going to live my life.
"If football causes me to have Alzheimer's early or dementia, I guess that's part of the gig. This is what I love to do and this is my job."
PITCHING IN: Walking off the field after practice, rookie receiver Demaryius Thomas spotted pairs of shoulder pads from fellow wideouts laying on the grass.
He figured he'd better just grab them rather than risk some kind of wrath later on.
Thomas wasn't about to make the same mistake as Cowboys rookie receiver Dez Bryant, who was unaware of the rookie ritual of carrying a veteran's equipment after practice and refused to obey Roy Williams' request last week.
"No problems at all," Thomas said of carry the pads. "I'm just trying to get some respect."
The first-round pick missed the three days of workouts for rookies and players coming off injuries last week as he waited for his contract to be hashed out. He finally signed a five-year deal with more than $9 million in guarantees Saturday.
He said it was stressful waiting for the deal to get done.
"I was tired of waiting," Thomas said. "I just wanted to get out there and practice."
Typically, some of the focus at training camp falls on the highest pick. But with rookie quarterback Tim Tebow around, Thomas avoids some of that spotlight.
That's just fine with him.
"Everybody loves Tebow," said Thomas, who was taken three spots ahead of the Heisman Trophy winner. "So I have no pressure on me. ... Just go out there and play and try to get me a job."
And cart off the veterans' equipment.
"Brandon Lloyd left them on the field and I picked them up," Thomas said. "He didn't tell me to take them, I just picked them up."
Already, Thomas is a quick learner.
Starting quarterback Kyle Orton had said last week that he couldn't wait for Tebow to sign his contract so he could carry his shoulder pads off the field.
On Sunday morning, though, Orton left them on the grass in hopes Tebow would grab them. Tebow, however, took extra throws and then walked off without fetching Orton's equipment, which another player eventually gathered up.
In the evening session, Tebow did indeed carry Orton's shoulder pads.
QUICK HITS: TE Daniel Graham toppled over the tackling sled in a drill, shoving it completely on its backside. ... Third-year WR Matthew Willis made a couple of sensational catches in the morning session, drawing loud ovations from the crowd and special mention from coach Josh McDaniels when asked if anyone had made a quick impression. ... LB D.J. Williams didn't practice in the evening session.