Keith “Thump” Belton leads the life that few fans understand, but many players know innately — the life of a player scratching to find a semi-permanent place on an NFL team’s roster, a life that comes with the potential for great success, but a distinct lack of job security.
While he’s been a part of the Broncos since they signed him to their practice squad last December, it’s the day he was cut by the Chicago Bears that remains etched in scarlet on his mental calendar.
“September 2. That was the best day of my life and the worst day of my life,” Belton recalled.
“I kind of saw the writing on the wall. I did the best I could, but when I got that phone call from Coach (Lovie) Smith, that was the first time I’d cried in a long time. My grandmother had passed, my grandfather — a lot of people had passed (away) and I hadn’t dropped a tear, but that was like I lost a child, almost, because I hold the game so close to me, and that time from April until I got released was one of the lowest points of my life, because I (thought), ‘I’m not getting the opportunity; I’m not getting the reps; I don’t know what to do. There wasn’t anything I could do.
“When they released me for the last time, I sat there and put my head down and cried, because it was like, ‘What more could I have done to keep this from happening?’ But at the same time, by me being in Chicago, I did build a stronger relationship with my faith, and I did believe it was going to work out, one way or another.”
But it was Belton’s summertime reconnection with his Christian faith last year and his eventual landing in Denver which led him to dub it the best day of his life.
And although his given name is Keith, you can call him “Thump.” Virtually everyone on the Broncos does, “except the strength coach,” he says. Belton has answered to “Thump” since his infancy, and while he notes that the origin of his nickname has changed from time to time with the stories his parents have shared with him, it has become his identity among his nearest and dearest.
“My mom would never call me Keith because it’s my father’s name,” he said. “I don’t think she’s ever called me Keith in my whole life. Her, my family — all call me ‘Thump.’”
By any name, Belton carries a story that’s common, but his has its own unique twist. After being cut by the Bears, he went back home to Charlotte, N.C. to work as a substitute teacher and assistant football coach. It was work he handled well — one of his players, Daryl Vereen, led the Charlotte area in rushing yardage and signed to play at the University of Tennessee.
But Belton sees college-football coaching in his distant future. For now, it’s making it as a player and supporting his growing family that stand as his peak priorities.