For a man who eats, breathes and sleeps football, a man who has put football ahead of other things in his life, a man who treats the game like it’s his first love, having it taken away from him the last two years has been challenging for Steelers guard Willie Colon.
Colon suffered a torn Achilles before the 2010 season, bringing his season to an abrupt and disappointing end before it even got started.
He worked his tail off to get back on the field for the 2011 season opener against the Baltimore Ravens and was proud of how far he had come and excited to be playing again. But it didn’t last long. He tore his triceps muscle against the Ravens, and for the second-straight year found himself on injured reserve.
“The second time was the hardest,” said Colon. “As a player you think you are going to have only one big injury in your career. I thought that was it. I had a good camp, week one I felt good in Baltimore. I was back in the groove.
“When I tore my triceps I didn’t think about it. I knew it hurt but at the same time it was a normal football injury. When (athletic trainer) John Norwig told me I was going to be out again that was the hardest. I thought I was done with injuries. It was heart breaking.”
Colon couldn’t help but ask himself, why me? What have I done to deserve this?
“That is the number one question. You wonder who you ticked off,” said Colon. “The toughest thing in life is to accept reality. I realized this is my reality and I can either cry about it or get back on the horse and get better and work from it. That is how I approached it, every day getting better and staying positive.”
What Colon did was get right back on the horse and not only fought back from the second injury, but made the switch from tackle to guard while doing so.
And on Tuesday he was honored for his hard work and perseverance when he received the Steelers 2012 Ed Block Courage Award, voted on by his teammates and presented annually to a Steelers player who has fought back from an injury or tough situation to return to the field. Colon and Sheakia Edwards, an alumnus of Holy Family Institute who won the Courage House Award, received their awards at the 20th Arthur J Rooney, Sr. Courage House Luncheon
“He has been through a lot on and off the field, obviously dealing with an injury two years in a row,” said Coach Mike Tomlin, who presented the award to Colon. “You couple that with the position change. This guy has been playing tackle for us since I came here and this year not only is he coming off an injury, he has been playing left guard. It tells you what type of man and teammate he is. I called him and gave him that news and he didn’t bat an eye. As a matter of fact he thanked me for believing in him, that he could do that job. That is the kind of man Willie Colon is. I am not going to stand in front of you and pretend that he is a nice guy, but he is a good man.”
Colon thanked those that helped him through the last few years, including Tomlin, offensive line coach Sean Kugler, the Rooney family, his teammates and trainers, and his family, who were in attendance after being stranded in Pittsburgh by Hurricane Sandy.
“Coach Tomlin tells us that’s reality is real,” said Colon. “As much as that sounds crazy, you have to accept reality. My reality was I was hurt for two years and I had to accept it and get over it.”
Keeping that positive attitude wasn’t always easy. There were definitely rough patches, times when disappointment meshed with anger, creating some long days, and even longer nights.
“You hear Coach (Mike) Tomlin talk about the love affair with this game,” said Colon. “I have a deep love affair with it. I have sacrificed relationships, my own body and mind, my every day growth to be a football player.
“There is so much that goes into this game. You have to have balance, though. If you don’t have balance you can fall off the deep end. I fell off that deep end and was able to climb back up that ladder. I just had to take it day by day.”
The injuries are well in Colon’s rearview mirror. He is back to where he was before the injury, now strong as ever.
“I learned a lot about myself during the injuries,” said Colon. “I had a lot of dark nights, wanted to give up. But it made me think about how much I love the game, and I thought about the good times and it lit my fire. I love coming out of the tunnel and hearing the fans cheer. That feeling you get in your gut, the nerves. I still have that in my belly. That kept me going. Even now, when I see my helmet, put my cleats on, I still have that fire that I want to play football.”
With all he has been through he is thankful every time he walks on the practice field, and doesn’t forget how lucky he is, kneeling and praying before every practice.
“With all I have been through, I try to give God thanks for giving me another day to practice,” said Colon. “I try to keep humble, practice my humility and work on my pride as far as being able to fight through anything I am going through.”
Tags: Mike Tomlin, Willie Colon
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