By Joel Hillan

DENVER (CBS4) – It’s not even spring and football is thriving at Denver Public Schools.

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(credit: CBS)

“I just love playing football,” said 8th grader Carmelo Williams who doesn’t know what he’d be doing if he wasn’t playing the game.

“I don’t even know. I’d probably just be sitting at home right now, probably sleeping or something.”

Williams is part of a program called Futures Football which helps bridge middle school kids to their high school football teams.  It’s a partnership started between Denver Public Schools and the Denver Broncos almost 10 years ago.

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(credit: CBS)

“Teams from the outside would come in with 150 kids, and we’d only have 14 kids, and it’s demoralizing for our kids to be mercy-ruled in the 1st quarter and we said, ‘We’ve got to do something about this,” said John Andrew, the manager of Middle School Athletics at DPS. “So we launched a proposal to the Broncos, and right away, the Broncos said yes, and it’s just grown every year since we’ve done it.”

Now, the kids get to work with former Broncos greats like Tyrone Braxton in nearly $500 worth of new equipment donated by the Denver Broncos.

“We’re teaching them work ethic, teamwork, camaraderie, how to deal with adversity, how to lose a game and really look at yourself and see what you could have done better to win, instead of always blaming it on someone else,” said Braxton.

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(credit: CBS)

Ring of Famer Billy Thompson stressed programs like this are important for young, developing players.

“This is the start of it. They have a long way to go, but this is a great foundation for them,” said Thompson.

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The kids lined up to get cleats in autographed boxes, hand-delivered by Broncos alumni.

“We literally went from being one of the worst leagues in the state to one of the best leagues in the state, and it’s all because of the futures program,” said Andrew who hopes with moments like this, the best could be yet to come.

Joel Hillan anchors CBS4 This Morning on weekends as well as reports stories for CBS4 News at 5 and 6 p.m. Follow Joel on Twitter @joelhillan.

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