When football takes a back seat
Posted December 27, 2013
A strange thing happened at Belk Bowl media day, and it put football - and life itself - in perspective.
Jared Fialko and I were wrapping up an interview with Marquise Williams when the Carolina quarterback asked if he could tell us one more thing.
This doesn't happen very often with major college athletes - they're busy and constantly being bombarded with questions, and that goes doubly so for a "media day" setting such as this one a day before the Belk Bowl. Players are scattered around at interview stations where a steady stream of reporters (and that includes us) cycle through and (likely) ask the same questions over and over again.
It probably gets mind numbing for the players, which is why it was so unusual for a starting quarterback to ask if he could tell us a story. So, we listened...
Williams proceeded to tell us about Bryce Heckendorf, a young boy less than a year old. Bryce has been diagnosed with Krabbe disease, a degenerative disorder that affects the nervous system. Former NFL quarterback Jim Kelly's son, Hunter, had the same disease. Hunter Kelly lived to be eight years old.
As Marquise told us more about young Bryce, we learned of their connection. Bryce's uncle is an assistant offensive coordinator on the UNC staff. Keith Heckendorf works directly with the quarterbacks, and describes their relationship as being like a family. When times are hard, you rely on your family, and Keith turned to his football family for support. The quarterbacks are now wearing blue wristbands in support of Bryce and his fight.
The effects of Krabbe are disturbing to read. According to the National Institute of Health: "As the disease progresses, muscles continue to weaken, affecting the infant’s ability to move, chew, swallow, and breathe. Affected infants also experience vision loss and seizures." It affects 1 in 100,000 people, and there is no known cure.
Williams talked about how painful it was to imagine a young child being unable to grow and play and do things he - an elite athlete - takes for granted. "I'm playing for my little man," Williams said, pledging to dedicate his bowl game to Bryce. And that's truly something worth rooting for.
If you'd like to read more about Bryce Heckendorf's fight, check out www.thebstrongfund.org.