Trent Williams was in elementary school when his grandfather passed away due to complications with Type 2 diabetes. Now it's his mission to educate others about the disease.
Washington Redskins Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams understandably struggled with the emotions of his grandfather's death due to Type 2 diabetes.
John L. Hawkins, Williams' grandfather, was 62 when he passed away. Williams, meanwhile, was still in grade school.
Hawkins was the only grandfather Williams ever knew, and he admitted that it was tough watching him battle the disease.
"I wasn't able to establish that grandfather-grandson relationship that I wanted to," Williams said. "He was my only grandfather that I knew of. My mom, she didn't know her father so he was the only grandfather figure that I had and we lost him real early – real early in my life – to Type 2 diabetes."
Now with a better understanding of the impact that diabetes has on more than 30 million Americans, Williams has joined forces with the American Diabetes Association to bring more awareness to the subject.
The Redskins on Sunday will host their Tackle Diabetes Game against the New York Giants.
"We really just want to bring light to the topic of Type 2 diabetes," he said. "It affects 30 million Americans every year and with us having the platform that we have and with me being a bigger guy and being an offensive lineman – where we are encouraged to carry excess weight – to let folks know that after football that I really have to focus on eating healthy and staying active.
'It was devastating'
After getting into football at an early age, Williams said his grandfather became so sick that he was unable to see him play the sport that would eventually become his living.
"It was devastating to me being young and being a part of athletics," he said. "My grandfather was never able to come watch me play because he was so frequently sick and had to stay in the house from complications from diabetes."
Just an elementary schooler when the disease took full control of Hawkins, Williams also said Hawkins' fight for his life was the "kind of a sight that no little kid would want to be a part of."
"Just real sick, very weak, unable to be active at times," Williams recalled of visits to see his grandfather. "I mean, me being a young kid, I didn't have any type of awareness of what diabetes was, I'd just see my grandfather suffering whenever I'd see him."
Williams – who checks in at 337 pounds – said that once he calls it a career, he wants to make sure he remains in shape, especially with his family history.
"Obviously meeting with a physician all the time to go over things and basically getting myself checked out because I have a family history with it," he said of his post-football career health goals.
For those who might be at risk for developing Type 2 diabetes, Williams said "you've got to pay attention to what you put into your body."
"I was taught that you only get out what you put into yourself," he said. "So, you know, obviously I am going to have to watch my intake as far as food-wise and make healthy decisions.
"Obviously," he said, "I am not just going to be able to just sit up on the couch after 10 years of football, 12 years of football or however long and just be a couch potato."
"I am still going to have to get out and be active because I am raising two daughters of my own and I want them to lead a healthy life. So I know I will have to be a good example," Williams said.
'Dream come true'
Williams has certainly done his grandfather proud both on and off the field for the Redskins.
A three-time Pro Bowler considered one of the best at his position in the NFL, Williams in August was rewarded for his efforts with a reported-five year contract extension that made him the league's highest-paid left tackle.
"It feels great to know that I'll be ready to go for another five seasons," Williams told reporters after the deal became official. "It's a dream come true."
Williams has turned into exactly the kind of player the Redskins hoped for when the team used the No. 4-overall pick on him out of Oklahoma in the 2010 NFL Draft.
On the field, the 6-foot-5, 337-pound Williams plays fast and nasty. Against some of the best pass rushers the league has to offer, Williams rarely gets beat, and takes pride in delivering some punishing blocks in the open field for his receivers and running backs.
Off the field and in the locker room, Williams has developed into a perennial team captain, someone the rest of the offensive line leans on for advice.
He certainly earned head coach Jay Gruden's respect last season when he played through multiple nagging injuries to play in and start 15 games and still earn a Pro Bowl nomination.
"I think Trent from day one was voted captain here by the players and he fought through some injuries all year," Gruden said. "He gave us everything he had."
He's done the same this season, and has battled through some nicks and bruises to start nine games and head into today's game against the New York Giants with a chance to be atop the NFC East Division standings.
Williams, a Longview, Texas, native, said he's acclimated well to the Washington, D.C., area, and is excited about the prospects of keeping his family there for at least another five years.
"I love the city, I love where they have us at Ashburn, Northern Virginia," he said. "I love the area. It's a good school for the kids. It's just everything you want."