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Life's Playbook: New Bronco Covington followed dad to professional football

Dad is a Canadian Football League Hall of Famer who helped guide Christian through life and football as a hard-working defensive tackle.

DENVER — Unlike Mother’s Day, our nation’s celebration of Father’s Day is a relatively recent affair.

Mother’s Day has been a national holiday since 1908. It wasn’t 1972 that fathers got their due with their own holiday. As is only right.

For Grover and Christian Covington, this Sunday will become another, ‘Like Father, Like Son’ kind of celebration.

Grover Covington, 64, was a Canadian Football League Hall of Famer, who amassed 157 career sacks in 11 seasons with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats – 148 coming in his first nine years, or 16.4 per year. For perspective, Broncos star Von Miller, who may be well on his to way to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has 106 sacks in nine seasons.

Grover settled in Vancouver, British Columbia with his wife of 28 years, Natalie. They had three children – Christian, 27; Asianna, 25; and Autumn, 23 – all of whom received full-ride scholarships at major American universities.

Credit: Photo courtesy: Covington family

Christian became a football player, like dad. A different kind of football player in that Christian is a 6-foot-3, 300-pound, hard-working, overachieving, run-stuffing defensive tackle. Dad was a 6-3, 235- to 255-pound defensive end who after a delayed start to his professional career, eventually learned how to torment quarterbacks.

What Christian wouldn’t give to have watched his dad play.

"I honestly wish I had the pleasure to have done that because of the player he was," Christian Covington said in a recent Zoom video interview with 9NEWS. "Unfortunately, he retired two years before he and my mom had me. But he was very keen with me growing up watching his film. He got me early on and forced me to watch his games and forced me to watch playoff games.

"Back then, I was like, 'Why are we doing this?' But now, I’m like, ‘You know what, dad, thank you. I need this.’"

For our Broncos Country Father’s Day special this Saturday on 9NEWS (6 p.m.) and Channel 20 (9:30 p.m.), we featured two new Denver players in Covington and right guard Graham Glasgow.

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Each had a unique journey to the NFL with an unusual common background – both attended all-boys high schools. Glasgow and his two younger NFL-playing brothers made the 40-minute commute from DeKalb, Ill. to Marmion Academy in Aurora, Ill. Covington went from kindergarten through 12th grade at Vancouver College.

"My wife wanted that, but I thought it was good because I didn’t want him to have any distractions," Grover said. "We wanted him to have laser focus on studies and sports. Because, you know, boys are kind of crazy at that age and distracted by girls and stuff like that.

"He was at that school from kindergarten to grade 12. That’s the only school he went to. It wasn’t until he got a scholarship to Rice, he said, 'Dad, there’s girls in my dorm!'"

After Rice, Christian stayed in Houston where he played four years with the Texans before staying in-state to play with the Dallas Cowboys last season. He is branching out this year after he signed a one-year, $1.5 million contract in late-April with the Broncos.

Credit: AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth
Dallas Cowboys defensive end Christian Covington on Sunday, Sept. 22, 2019.

RELATED: Broncos add veteran defensive lineman Christian Covington

"He is very coachable," Grover said. "He’s a kind-spirited guy, but he’s going to do whatever you say. He’s going to work hard. He’s going to be on time. He’s going to always be there for the team. You could say he has a boring life in some sense because he doesn’t party, he doesn’t drink. He’s just one of those good Christian kids who has a love and a passion for life.

"He’s a smart kid. He’s going to pick up on defenses. He’s going to pick up on opponents, who he was to go against. He’s not a superstar, but he’s a great teammate because he realizes it’s a team sport, not an individual sport. All the parts have to work together. And you’ve got to cover for each other. He wants to win. He wants to lead. He wants to come in there and produce and win."

Credit: Photo courtesy: Covington family

Growing up in Vancouver, hockey was everywhere but inside the Covington household.

"I did (play hockey) a little," Christian said. "It got to the point growing up that my feet outgrew the skates and I started to become a little bit more uncomfortable. I’m a size 17 so it was very hard to find skates in my size.

"But honestly to me it was always a dream of mine to play football, obviously starting with who my father was. He never pushed me to play football, he always wanted me to play on my accord. But once I knew I could get the ball rolling with this sport he was behind me. He and my mom were behind me 100 percent of the way."

Grover Covington grew up in Charlotte, N.C., where his dad worked as a pipefitter and bricklayer.

"We built our own weight set out of pipe and cement," Grover said with a laugh.

His parents didn’t let him play football until his junior year at West Charlotte H.S. He was a 155-pound defensive end/offensive lineman as a junior and played at his wrestling weight of 185 as a senior. He attended Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, then signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bart Starr-coached Green Bay Packers in 1979.

"To be honest, I wasn’t ready," Grover said. "I had no technique."

He was released after the Packers’ preseasons, moped around his house for a while before he signed up to play two years with the Charlotte Chargers, the most successful of the semipro American Football Association teams. Players only got paid a small percentage of the gate but Grover got repaid many times over because he said he got two years of good coaching.

In the spring of 1981, his sister told him about the CFL holding a tryout. He won the audition, signing with the Montreal Allouettes as an outside linebacker, a position he never felt comfortable with. At the end of camp, he was traded to Hamilton, where he became a seven-time All Star and Grey Cup champion in 1986.

Although NFL teams occasionally flirted with luring Grover away, the timing was never right.

He’s glad it wasn’t because he would meet his wife in Canada and raise their three kids there, starting with Christian. Despite his affinity for the sport, Grover kept Christian away from playing football until he was in 8th grade.

"Football is a sport that you have to have a passion for it," Grover said. "When he was first born all my buddies would go, 'I know he’s playing football.' And I said, 'well, if that’s what he wants to do.'

"I always told him, don’t do it because of me. Do it because you want to do it. I didn’t want him to start too early. I feel like football is a sport where you can wait a little bit."

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After five seasons in the NFL, Christian Covington had to wait nearly six weeks in free agency, and after the draft, before it came together with the Broncos.

"After the draft I got communication that coach (Vic) Fangio wanted to talk to me," Covington said. "We talked ad he sold me on signing there.

"I see myself as a versatile player. Having played in the 3-4 defense in the past with Houston, I know that I can play across the ball. It doesn’t matter if I’m a nose, 3-technique end position, the 4-technique end position, whatever the case may be, where ever they see me fit, I want to be able to help this team out."

Credit: Photo courtesy: Covington family

Sounds like a player who grew up understanding what it takes for a football team to be successful.

"He’s going to do what you tell him to do," Grover said. "That’s why I’m excited he’s going to Denver that has a defensive-minded head coach. It’s nice that he’s going to a system and they’ve got a great front. I think it’s going to be a great fit for him, I really do."