DENVER -- Promoting a cause that’s bigger then himself, bigger than football, that’s what Broncos kicker Brandon McManus is trying to do with a new organization that tackles bullying.
He was inspired to make a difference after spending an afternoon with a local boy. Home video captured that November day in 2014.
It shows 11-year-old Ryder Braden playing ball McManus, who became Ryder's friend, coach and hero. It was a moment that forever changed both of their lives.
Ryder is like most young boys. He is full of energy and has a deep love for football. But unlike most 11-year-olds, Ryder talks a little different and walks a little different. He has Down syndrome.
His mother, Season Hillery, lives for her five kids and was heartbroken the day she learned neighbors were bullying her son.
“You guys are just a bunch of disabled people, and made fun of how Ryder walks and how Ryder talks. It was really hard,” Hillery recalled.
Desperate for help, she reached out to the Rocky Mountain Down Syndrome Association. The group didn't have the power to make it stop, but organizers had an idea.
“I was approached by a guy with the Down Syndrome Association who kind of told me a story about Ryder, who has Down syndrome and was being bullied by his neighbors,” McManus said.
He had to do something and decided to show up at Ryder’s house and do the thing he loves most.
“He wore me out. We basically played until the sun went down,” McManus said.
“I was really excited. I was really excited for Ryder and I just couldn’t believe it,” Hillery said.
“I wanted his mom to feel a sense of security. That maybe someone is out there trying to help her son,” McManus said.
It meant the world to Hillery, Ryder and the rest of her family. She said Ryder gained confidence and a new source of joy.
“Everyday he watches the video,” she said. “There’s not even words that can explain our gratitude to him."
The afternoon left a lasting impression on McManus, too.
It inspired him to start the Anti-Bully Squad, an organization that takes a stand against bullying.
“It is tough to officially stop it. But just to try to prevent it and give paths for people to talk,” McManus said. “I’ve played in big football games in my career, but just seeing his smile on his face and his mom’s face. It’s the most rewarding thing that I’ve ever taken in my life.”
Hillery said McManus keeps in touch with her family and sent a care package when he learned she was diagnosed with cancer.
“He’s just a really good person,” she said.
On Thursday, McManus said he started Anti-Bully Squad with a friend of his from his hometown in New Jersey. The organization is in its early stages, but the two of them hope to see it grow and host events in Denver.AlertMe