With a snap of his fingers, Kyle Williams demonstrated just how quickly a decade in the NFL has gone by.
The Buffalo Bills’ Pro Bowl defensive tackle was reflective Saturday during an acceptance speech after receiving the Call to Courage Award.
Mixing in some humor and plenty of emotion during a 17-minute speech, Williams’ message to the crowd of about 700 at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo centered on how to live like a champion.
“The courage that this award embodies speaks to the courage of the heart,” he said. “When your body is tired, your mind tells you, ‘This is where winners are made.’ And when your mind and your body are at their end, your heart tells you, ‘This is where champions are made.’
“I want to live like a champion. Most people associate the word champion with rings and trophies and awards, and I just think about the word ‘excellence.’ That’s what the word ‘champion’ means to me. It’s being excellent at what you do.”
Williams, 32, became the 15th recipient of the award, which was created by former Bills quarterback Frank Reich. It honors a current NFL player who demonstrates exemplary character, a commitment to Jesus Christ and service to the community.
Williams, who joined the Bills in 2006 as a fifth-round draft pick out of LSU, became the first current member of the team to win the award.
During a video that played before Williams’ speech, it was pointed out that despite a successful college career, seven defensive tackles were drafted before the Bills called his name. Only one of them remains with his original team, which speaks to the perseverance Williams has shown.
Just two months into his rookie year, the October Storm hit Buffalo, leaving Williams to wonder just where he was living.
“I’m like, ‘God, where are you? I gotta figure out how to get out of here,’ ” he said. “I can’t even get to my truck. When it’s 50 degrees at home, you lock yourself in.”
Eventually, though, Williams settled in to life in Western New York. When considering how fast those 10 years have gone by, he was overcome with emotion.
“I’m a mess right now,” he told the crowd.
Before Williams spoke, a roundtable discussion on the 25th anniversary of the Bills’ first Super Bowl appearance was held among team members Reich, Jim Kelly, Steve Tasker, Pete Metzelaars and Dwight Drane.
Seeing the camaraderie they still have a quarter-century later inspires Williams.
“The love that they have for one another is amazing,” he said. “That’s the reason that we do what we do.
“There’s a bond that’s created from the molding of men through competition and adversity. The excellence they showed on and off the field is what this award is all about and it’s why it’s been here 15 years, and I’m so proud to be here and be part of it.”
Williams is currently rehabbing a knee injury that limited him to just six games in 2015. He’s also previously had surgery on both Achilles’ tendons, but told the crowd that he doesn’t consider those injuries to be a valley in his life.
“I’ve been blessed to do this,” he said. “I’ve been blessed with an opportunity to compete, and it’s just another challenge to hit face on and to overcome.
“I’ve still got a little time left. I will continue to the best of my ability, with God’s grace, to compete and represent this organization, our fan base and my family with as much passion, love, grace and humility as I can, until I walk away.”
For Williams, living like a champion means as a husband, father, teammate, friend and follower of Christ.
“All of those things to me seem unattainable if I put them on a bullet list and just read them off,” he said.
But a commitment to Christianity that he made in June 2001 has guided him.
“Every day since then has been a journey to perfect that list,” he said. “Do I always do that the way that I should? Absolutely not. I’ll be the first to admit I can be as tough as anyone to be around, especially during football season.
“But I strive to proclaim his name, I strive to glorify him. I want to live my life like a champion in that way.”
Williams and his wife, Jill, have five children. Throughout their time in Buffalo, the couple has served as ambassadors for several community organizations, including the Food Bank of Western New York, Brian Moorman’s PUNT Foundation, and Athletes in Action.
“I want to father my children and teach them faithfulness, humility, strength and passion,” Williams said. “They all go together. They build upon one another and they build your character up into a foundation that will carry you for generations and that you can pass on.
“The ups and downs will surely come, but I know that I’ve built a foundation, and I’m truly grateful that God doesn’t call us to be perfect, he just asks us to be perfectible.”
Winner of the high school Call to Courage award was Medina senior Charles Beach. An All-Western New York honorable-mention selection along the defensive line, Beach grew up without a father, and in the eighth grade, his mother passed away. Two years later, the grandmother who took him in died, leaving him in the care of a great aunt.
Said Medina Athletic Director Eric Valley of Beach: “He’s an amazing young man who has probably taught me more than I have ever taught him.”
Lancaster senior Dan Speyer was also recognized as a finalist for the award.
Williams started his speech congratulating both Beach and Speyer.
“You embody what this award is all about,” he told them. “I’m encouraged to see young guys like you, who do what you do, and stand for what you stand for. You’re the true winners of the Call to Courage Award today and I’m glad to be here and stand on the same stage as you.”