This story originally appeared in Mile High Sports Magazine. Read the full digital edition.

Colorado fans can poke fun at Jared Crick’s Nebraska education all they want, particularly those who long for the revival of the once-chippy rivalry between the Cornhuskers and the Colorado Buffaloes.

Crick doesn’t care. The newest addition to one of the most respected defenses in the NFL clearly is no dummy.

When Houston selected Crick in the fourth round of the 2012 draft, he walked into a dream scenario for any rookie defensive lineman. At the other end of the Texans’ defensive front was a fella named J.J. Watt. A first-round selection just a year earlier at No. 11 overall, Watt turned in a solid rookie season, though his 5.5 sacks that season hardly counted as a harbinger of the dominance to come. In 2012 Crick began lining up at the opposite end of Houston’s line from Watt, and suddenly Watt turned into the Human Quarterback Destroyer, reaching double-figure sack totals in each of the next four seasons while twice reaching the 20-sack mark.

This past offseason, as Crick’s original four-year rookie contract expired, the former Cornhusker desired to continue his career at only one locale: The Mile High City.

Of course, there probably isn’t a single free agent in the entire NFL during any given offseason who doesn’t wonder if he might be a fit with the reigning Super Bowl champs. And yes, there was an undeniable connection between Crick and the Broncos’ coaching staff he was eager to rekindle (more on that later). But Crick also had made a solid living doing the dirty work that allowed a Hall of Fame-type talent to thrive at the opposite side of the defensive formation. After signing a two-year, $4 million contract with Denver in April, Crick is eager to do more of the same alongside reigning Super Bowl MVP Von Miller.

“You’ve got to know what you’re going to do to complement them,” Crick said. “Of course, they’re going to have a lot more free rein than you will. That was a lot of my game, covering J.J. I knew what he was going to do, so I’d cover for him.

“Is it glorious? No. Is it glamorous? No. You’re not going to get your name in the papers a whole lot. But if you want your team to win, that’s what you’ve got to do. If that’s the case up here too, so be it. I’ll do whatever to help the team win.”

Watt enters the season having amassed 74.5 sacks in his five-year career, with 69 of those coming with Crick playing along the same line. Miller, the No. 2 overall pick in the same 2011 draft that produced Watt, is an equally devastating edge rusher who enters the season with 60 career sacks despite launching himself at quarterbacks from an outside linebacker role.

“Difference-wise, obviously J.J. is a lot bigger,” Crick said. “Von, I would say he’s a little more agile, a little more athletic. But they both play extremely hard. They both know their assignments. They both have a lot of passion for the game, and really if you want to play football at this high a level that’s the first thing you’ve really got to have.

“They’re both great pass rushers in their own right. They play kind of separate positions, but they play them well and they play them at a high level. That’s why they’re Hall of Fame players.”

Crick’s blue-collar roots trace back to his hometown of Cozad in west-central Nebraska. According to a 2010 census count, the town’s population checks in at just under 4,000 – a number that is in the ballpark of the average fan attendance at any of the Broncos’ preseason workouts.

Crick lived the dream of every Nebraska high school football star when he signed to play collegiately with the Cornhuskers. He finished his career ranked in the top 10 of the hallowed program’s all-time sack leaders despite a torn pectoral muscle that cut short his senior season and put a slight dent in his draft prospects.

While Crick always bled Nebraska scarlet-and-cream, Sundays were reserved for the NFL. More often than not the regional game that aired in cozy Cozad featured the Denver Broncos.

“The only NFL games you really caught if you had basic cable were the Broncos games,” Crick said. “I grew up watching the Broncos and it’s exciting to wear the orange and blue.”

As Watt was busy putting together a body of work that reaped three AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year awards in the four seasons he played alongside Crick, the former Cornhusker was building a deep and instantaneous rapport with then-Texans head coach Gary Kubiak and two of his defensive assistants, Wade Phillips and Bill Kollar. Reestablishing that relationship after Kubiak brought both men with him to Denver played the predominant role in Crick signing with the Broncos.

“It’s great. I was with Coach Kubs for two years, coach Wade for two years, and coach Kollar for three,” Crick said. “It’s a different city, a different team, but a lot of it feels the same. And I’ve got great teammates, so that makes it easier. The adjustment was easy. It’s a great city, so I’m excited to have a lot of fun.

“[The coaching staff] was the factor; I wanted to follow Kubs wherever he was going to go when my time in Houston was up. I love everything that Kubs stands for. I love how he coaches and how he loves his players. I had a blast playing for him, so I knew I wanted to go wherever he was going to go. The fact that Coach Wade is here and Coach Kollar, they were another big factor. The gang is back together. I thought it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass.”

For their part, the feeling is mutual from the coaches Crick respects so much.

“Crick is just a really good player,” Kollar said. “He plays hard. He gives you everything he’s got, and that’s all you can ever ask of a guy. He’s a real smart guy and he plays smart.”

Crick will never quite light up a stat sheet like the more famous linemates he has played alongside, having posted just 5.5 sacks in his entire career while reaching a career-best total of 56 tackles in 2014. One thing that can be counted on, though, is that Crick will answer the bell each and every week.

During his four seasons in Houston, Crick played in 63 of 64 games, in addition to the Texans’ three postseason games during that span. The 27-year-old played 855 snaps last season, which surpassed the total for any of Denver’s defensive linemen. Only Malik Jackson, who took his Super Bowl ring to Jacksonville and whose void Crick was hired to help fill, topped 800 snaps last year.

“He’s a good run-down player,” Kollar said. “What happens is a lot of time Wolfe is on the same side as Von when they end up rushing. There are different stunts we’ll run over there to try and free him up. We’ve done that everywhere that I’ve been. It just depends on how everything fleshes out on how much he’ll be playing.”

It remains to be seen how Crick will fit in with a defense that led the NFL in pass defense, total defense, and sacks while also ranking third in rush defense and fourth in scoring defense en route to the franchise’s third Super Bowl crown. The 6-foot-5, 285-pound Crick is listed as a defensive end but likely will spend more time in the interior. With Derek Wolfe cemented at one spot, it is unlikely Crick will see 800 snaps again in a rotation expected to include Sylvester Williams, Vance Walker, and possibly second-round draft choice Adam Gotsis.

“I’m excited to play in this scheme again,” Crick said. “Time will tell. I’m just going out and trying to play as hard as I can. We’ll see what my role is. Whatever it is, I’ll do my best at it and relish it. I’m excited to see what the opportunity is going to be.”

If a few more snaps in the regular season can be balanced by another deep postseason run with his new team, Crick certainly won’t complain. After all, the ring is the thing.