Seattle Seahawks

DT Williams makes final push to make Seahawks’ roster despite possiblity of cancer

After having a cancerous kidney removed in late May, Seahawks defensive tackle Jesse Williams, running through a drill during training camp, has a shot to make the team’s 53-man roster.
After having a cancerous kidney removed in late May, Seahawks defensive tackle Jesse Williams, running through a drill during training camp, has a shot to make the team’s 53-man roster. The Associated Press

For Seattle Seahawks’ starters and the established, this is a throwaway game to end the preseason.

For Jesse Williams, it’s no exaggeration to say this is the game of his life.

His life has been like no other on the Seahawks’ roster. Like no other in the NFL, actually.

Forget Kam Chancellor’s holdout that has gone on 34 days now with no end in sight. The most compelling story of Seattle’s eventful preseason is No. 90 in blue trying to make the 53-man roster to begin the regular season.

“What a story,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said, shaking his head. “What a story!”

Williams’ first two years in the league as Seattle’s fifth-round draft choice out of Alabama in 2013 ended before they began because of two major knee injuries. He spent those entire seasons on the injured-reserve list. He went home to his native Australia to recover during offseasons not dejected so much as determined that year three would be his breakout debut.

Then in May doctors found he had cancer in his kidney, papillary type 2 cancer. That’s defined by The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York as representing “more than one category of disease but, as a group, are much more aggressive and may follow an unpredictable growth pattern.”

Yes, cancer even finds a 6-foot-3, 325-pound 24-year old known as “The Monstar.”

Surgeons at the University of Washington Medical Center removed The Monstar’s kidney on May 28. Astoundingly he was cleared for football workouts two weeks later. Two-plus months later, Williams was back on the field at Seahawks training camp. On Aug. 14 he played his first game in two years, in the second half against Denver.

This week Williams survived the first round of Seattle’s 15 roster cuts. He will play Thursday’s exhibition finale against Oakland trying to improbably win a spot on the 53-man roster to begin the season as a hole-clogging defensive tackle Carroll loves.

Maybe he really is a Monstar.

Everyone seems surprised Williams can simply run, let alone is still be on the Seahawks’ roster with a chance to make it three months following cancer surgery.

Everyone, that is, except him.

“I didn’t come out of Alabama expecting to have all these problems or anything like that,” he said. “I just stay with what the plan is for me to do, and that’s to come here and play football.

“You know, it’s not an easy job. No matter how you feel, good or bad, you have to come here and work. I pretty much try to do that every day.”

See, Williams still might have cancer.

When UW’s doctors removed his kidney in late May, they found more cancerous cells.

“They removed the whole kidney, which is Stage 3. But they also removed the lymph nodes around the kidney,” Williams said Tuesday just off the Seahawks’ indoor field, after he finished another practice. “The lymph nodes are like the (blood) highway for the body. They also found cancer in my lymph nodes around my kidney.

“So that then prompted more scans and testing. Just to see if it is anywhere else — or where it might be going next.”

So now instead of treating Williams to eradicate the cancer, doctors are first having him return to the University of Washington Medical Center once or twice a week to do morning scans. He doesn’t yet take medication because doctors don’t completely know how widespread his cancer is.

In the same hours the staffs at UW, the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance are searching for how far the cancer might have spread throughout his body, Williams drives from their facilities in Seattle back to team headquarters at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton to practice with the Seahawks. He attends position meetings, watches film — and, oh, yeah, plays in NFL games.

Harrowing? How about amazing?

“Still going through scans and a couple other tests at the moment but trying not to let that show when I’m playing,” Williams said, sweat dripping off his face from practice. “Obviously, I’m still recovering. It’s kind of a major surgery to come back from.”

Kind of?

“It’s a day-by-day thing,” he said. “But it’s been good. Just working hard to improve.”

It’s more than a wonder how Williams can keep his mind on his job, go to the right gap in the 4-3 base and control centers and guards while trying to make the Seahawks’ roster — and knowing he has sacrificed one kidney to a cancer that might still live on inside him.

“If I feel good I come to work. If I feel bad I still come to work,” he said.

“Yeah, football is the one thing keeping me going right now. It gives me something to work for, something to wake up for. Something to go do with my day.”

Williams said it was actually tougher for him in June and most of July, when the Seahawks did not have formal workouts and he sat at UW Medical Center “for hours on end” getting tested, waiting for results – then getting tested some more.

“I mean, I’d rather be here, busy, working out, practicing, whatever,” he said.

Just don’t throw pity Williams’ way. He hand-shivers that notion like he would another weak offensive lineman in his way.

“I know everybody’s got their own problems. I come here and leave mine at home, at my house,” he said. “I’m a football player when I come here. I have nothing to do with cancer. I don’t have any cancer tests to do here. I just do my job.”

That job is coming down to this final push Thursday against the Raiders. The team must trim 22 players by the league deadline of 1 p.m. Saturday.

What would it mean if the Seahawks list Williams on their first regular-season roster Saturday?

“It would mean a lot,” he said, proudly. “It’s been a long and obviously still-continued process to get where I am. You know, hopefully depending on how the rest of the testing goes I can continue my football. It depends on what the Seahawks want to do.

“I can control making the team as much as I can control getting rid of cancer, you know what I mean? I just come to work every day and do what I can.”

SEAHAWKS GAMEDAY

OAKLAND RAIDERS AT SEATTLE SEAHAWKS

7 P.M. THURSDAY, CENTURYLINK FIELD

TV: Ch. 13.Radio: 710-AM, 97.3-FM.

The series: This is the 10th consecutive year these teams have met in the preseason, the eighth time in Seattle during that span. This is the 14th exhibition meeting overall between former AFC West rivals. The Seahawks are 9-4, including a loss last year in Oakland.

SEATTLE’S KEYS

Seeing is believing: Offensive line coach Tom Cable says his new blockers — 60 percent of the five-man line moved into new spots two weeks ago — have a chance to be his best one yet. Judging on how inconsistent and beaten they’ve been at times during the past two exhibition games, that’s saying something. LT Russell Okung, LG Justin Britt, C Drew Nowak, RG J.R. Sweezy and RT Garry Gilliam are unlikely to play much. But when they do, a reassuring showing would be timely.

Will Dion Bailey actually start, for real? Wednesday was day 33 of Kam Chancellor’s holdout, with no end in sight. So Dion Bailey gets a final prep for what now appears will be his starting assignment in the opener Sept. 13 at St. Louis. This time last year he was an undrafted, fourth-year junior out of USC who was injured and headed onto Seattle’s practice squad. Now he’s starting in a not-so “Legion of Boom” secondary.

Will “The Monstar” actually pull it off? The best part of this exhibition finale will be watching No. 90, defensive tackle Jesse Williams, play in his final push to make the 53-man roster that Seattle must set by Saturday afternoon. He said this week he might still have cancer three months after doctors removed his cancerous kidney. Yet here he is, with a chance to make the defending NFC champions. Anyone not rooting for Williams needs a compassion check.

PRIME NUMBERS

OAKLAND

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

47

Josh Shirley

DE

6-1

235

first

Former UW starter transferred to UNLV for his final year, now a

long shot to pass rush his way onto Raiders’ roster.

53

Malcolm Smith

LB

6-0

226

fifth

Super Bowl MVP for Seahawks two seasons ago is now starting

in Oakland.

89

Amari Cooper

WR

6-1

211

rookie

First-round draft pick out of Alabama won’t get to test much of

Seattle’s starting secondary.

SEATTLE

No.

Name

Pos.

Ht.

Wt.

Year

27

Tharold Simon

CB

6-3

202

third

Returned last week from offseason shoulder surgery. Believes he

can still push Cary Williams for starting job.

39

Mohammed Seisay

CB

6-2

202

second

Mostly injured since trade from Detroit last month. Coaches love

his size but need to see his skills.

90

Jesse Williams

DT

6-3

325

third

Three months ago, he found out he had kidney cancer. Saturday,

he could find out he made this team.

gregg.bell@thenewstribune.com

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