Kyle Williams will make a bit of history Saturday when he receives the Call to Courage Award.
The Buffalo Bills’ defensive tackle will become the first current member of the team to receive the award, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary.
Created by former Bills quarterback Frank Reich and presented annually at a community sports breakfast, the award is given to a current NFL player who exemplifies outstanding character, commitment to their Christian faith and leadership both on the field and in the community.
Past winners include Kurt Warner, Chad Pennington, Trent Dilfer, London Fletcher, Benjamin Watson, Thomas Davis and last year’s winner, Scott Chandler.
“I don’t know how it happens, but every year we seem to get the right person, who really embodies what we want the award to be about,” Reich said. “It’s a man who does have that courage on and off the field. We talk about character, commitment and community under the umbrella of courage. Kyle has the kind of character we look for.”
Reich created the award as a way of giving back to Western New York for his time spent here as a player, and is amazed to see how far it’s come.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “We figured, ‘well let’s just give this a shot and find a way to give back to the community and continue to try to make an impact in the community, and here we are coming up on our 15th year. It’s just really amazing.”
Williams possesses the right attributes for the award, Reich said, because he’s “a humble man, but also a confident man.”
“We believe that humbleness and confidence comes together and is molded in our Christian faith,” he said. “Kyle has done a great job of that his whole career. He has that kind of character, that kind of Christian character that we’re looking for. That’s just a real commitment. A commitment on the field to excellence, a commitment to his own spiritual journey.
“That doesn’t mean any of us are asserting Kyle is the perfect Christian man, but it’s a commitment to continue growing. That in itself takes courage. That might be the biggest courage statement of them all.”
Williams, a four-time Pro Bowl selection, told The Buffalo News this award rivals any on-the-field accolade he’s ever received.
“When it’s something where you’re being honored for how you’ve conducted yourself and the way you’ve competed,” he said, “the character that you played with, the way you represented yourself, your family, and your organization, I don’t think there’s any better award to win.”
Williams played just six games for the Bills last year before having season-ending knee surgery. He’s also dealt with surgeries to both Achilles’ tendons in his career. At 32 and with 10 NFL seasons under his belt, the end of his career is much closer than the start.
That reality shapes his outlook on life.
“Whenever my day comes for me to leave the game of football, they’re going to be like, ‘Kyle’s gone, next guy up.’ It’s just the nature of the business and the nature of the league,” he said. “But the way I carry myself and treat my family and my friends and different people, that’s going to last a lifetime.”
Williams’ decade in the league is an eternity compared to the average of 3.3 years in a career, according to the NFL Players’ Association.
“There’s a very small percentage of people in the population that are blessed and lucky enough to play college or professional football, and there’s an even smaller percentage that are lucky enough to play eight, nine or 10 years,” he said. “It’s an exceptional career as far as modern-day standards go, but even that falls short to the amount of time you’re going to live your life outside football. I’m going to spend so much more of my life not playing football, hopefully.
“So to be able to carry myself and honor my friends and my family and all the things I represent in a classy way, in a high-character way, is much more important than any on-field accolade.”
Williams’ faith and football life go hand in hand, he said.
“It’s more about how you treat people that can’t help you,” he said. “I can slip and be as tough to be around as anybody. But I try to live my life in a grace-based way and I don’t try to rely on grace only when I need it. I try to give it to other people. It’s a very big focal point for myself and my family.”
Williams will take a break from his rehab in his home state of Louisiana to attend the breakfast. He has a meeting with his doctor during the week of the Bills’ first practices of the spring, which begin April 18, and hopes to ease into action after that, with a goal of being 100 percent by training camp.
“I think that’s what’s the team’s plan is for me,” he said. “Through OTAs and minicamp, just try to get me back to speed and get me going as we progress toward training camp. That’s both of our hopes.
“I’m doing good working out and moving around. … Still got some rehab to do, but it’s moving along well.”
Williams’ award isn’t the only part of the breakfast, which will be held from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Hyatt downtown.
A roundtable discussion will be held in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Bills’ appearance in Super Bowl XXV, with Reich taking part along with former teammates Jim Kelly, Steve Tasker, Pete Metzelaars and Dwight Drane.
“Any time we get together and start talking about old times, it seems like it was literally yesterday, but then we’re always brought back to reality when we sit there at that roundtable and actually look at each other and we realize it wasn’t yesterday,” Reich said. “We’ve all gotten a lot older. None of us are quite in the same form we were back in the day ... but what’s neat is the camaraderie hasn’t changed and the love and respect amongst each other hasn’t changed.”
Additionally, the South Park High School football team, which made history by becoming the first Buffalo Public School to win a state championship, will be recognized. A high school Call to Courage Award winner will also be announced.
The breakfast is open to the public. Tickets are $40 each. Call 559-1800 to check on availability.