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Former barefoot Broncos kicker kickstarts next career phase with woodworking business

Rich Karlis creates handmade cutting boards and artisan pieces through new project Barefoot Bronco Woodworking.

PARKER, Colo. — It's been 34 years since Rich Karlis last played a football game for the Denver Broncos, but the two-time AFC Champion couldn't find a place that felt more like home. From the outside of his Parker home, you can hear the faint sounds of a table saw coming from what looks like a detached three car garage.

"With buying this property, you've got to be fairly handy, especially with three horses that tend to break things," he said.

Karlis also built what he called the "Taj MaCoup" for his wife Laura, a state-of-the-art handmade chicken coup.

"But this was a real challenge for me to do the finer woodworking," he said.

Last January, one of Karlis' friends asked if he could make him a handmade charcuterie board. Through the magic of YouTube tutorials and some dedication to directions, a new passion was born.

"It's not a side that I knew I had and so it was really a new discovery for me to learn one, that I could do it and two, that I liked it, and I guess even three, that people said, 'wow, that's really beautiful.'"

Karlis made his name through the art of kicking, as a barefoot kicker in the NFL from 1982-1990 with three different teams, most notably the Denver Broncos. Now, the barefoot Bronco has his name on his own crafts through his newfound company Barefoot Bronco Woodworking.

While this new phase of his life is even solitary for a football specialist, Karlis easily finds the comparison.

"I think the one thing about kicking and woodworking that I found that's really similar is that perfectionist side," he said. "Oftentimes, I might make a kick, but the end-over-end, it wasn't clean, the ball moved a little bit, so I was always my sharpest critic, and I'm that way here."

It's that perfection that now propels him to build a cutting board in only one day, and previously to cut through the uprights, sending the Broncos to the Super Bowl.

"The thing about being a kicker, or any athlete, is that you never know when that time is going to come when it might define your career, and you just hope you're ready," he said. 

That moment for him was in 1986, when John Elway led the Broncos 98 yards down the field in 5 minutes and two seconds, trailing 20-17 to the Cleveland Browns. Karlis hit the game-tying extra point, followed by the game-winning field goal in overtime to send the Broncos to Super Bowl XXI.

"The next week, ending up on the cover of Sports Illustrated, for a kid who was a walk-on in college and a walk-on in the NFL, I don't know if I could've written a better script."

While he'll never replace the adrenaline rush from "The Drive," the dopamine rush from finishing a new project is a good surrogate.

"The light came on a year ago, and it's been a lot of fun," he said. "Seeing the enjoyment that people have gotten from the boards, is something that I could've never probably have even dreamt of."

You can see Rich's products at BarefootBroncoWoodworking.com.

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