Long before Pro Bowl wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was catching passes from Pro Bowl quarterbacks in the NFL, he was lighting it up on the basketball court with his local Boys and Girls Club in tiny Bellville, Texas.

“I remember summer. Summertime, it was like, everyone was out of school, but everybody was still in the community and still at that Boys and Girls Club playing basketball,” said the current Denver Broncos wide receiver. “We had a summer basketball league …We traveled all over Texas trying to compete. Those are my fondest memories.”

And those fond memories have translated into Sanders’ new foundation working with the Broncos’-affiliated Boys & Girls Club of Metro Denver. The purpose of his foundation is to provide a place for kids in tough family situations to have a place to hang out and even improve their own lives.

“If they’re having trouble at home, the Boys and Girls Club allows the parent to work and allows the kids to come here … They have everything proper for when the kids get out of school, they can advance and keep getting better, no matter how their home circumstances are,” said Sanders, who credits his Boys & Girls Club growing up with getting him involved in sports and extracurricular activities. “And that’s what it’s about. That’s why I’ve always liked what the Boys and Girls Club represented.”

Sanders launched his new foundation with the club by offering a movie/pizza night last week with 100 kids in the club.

The event started with Sanders and fellow Broncos teammates hosting a pizza party with pizza from a local Peyton Manning-owned Papa John’s and then a field trip to a movie theater to see “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword.”

Photo: Denver Broncos

Sanders knows his celebrity with the Broncos is a big draw for the kids, but he’s also excited about interacting with them for whatever they want to do while hanging out at the Boys & Girls Club.

“I’m a big kid. When talking to kids, some kids are born into certain situations. Some kids are going through something and some kids just want to have fun with Play60, but some kids just want answers to questions on certain topics,” Sanders added. “That’s what I’m here for today. I’m here to help, no matter how I can help. I’m excited to go in here and meet the kids, eat pizza, and take them to a movie.”

Sanders is starting his fourth season with the Broncos after signing as a free agent in 2014 and then signing a contract extension mid-season last year.

Going on eight years as a wide receiver in the NFL, Sanders knows what it means to grow up with a hard life.

In an interview with Denver’s 9 News last year, the Texas native recounted being awakened by the loud snap of a sprung rat trap in his grandmother’s double-wide trailer. It was Sanders’ job to take out the dead rats before returning to bed.

He also got used to “mayonnaise and ketchup sandwiches” as a regular meal of the day.

But that upbringing made Sanders tough, and with the help of the local Boys & Girls Club as a child, he has persevered to become one of the leading catchers in the NFL with 417 catches and 31 touchdowns. He and teammate Demaryius Thomas have been among the league’s top wide receiver duos the past three years as both have caught over 1,000 yards each year.

“I wouldn’t change [my background] for the world because it made me who I am and made me appreciate everything I have right now. Those outcomes definitely made me strong.” (9 News)

And now he wants to pass on that strength to other kids with similar circumstances to his own growing up.

“We have an opportunity to be around the kids and give kids a dream – to inspire kids and that’s what it’s about,” Sanders said of his foundation’s goal. “This platform that we’re on, we have to take advantage of it. Use it for the proper things and that’s to better people and uplift people. That’s what we’re trying to do.”