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.