Randy Moss used to try to kill me, man.
Ya’ll have been in a sauna before, right? Maybe you think you’re real tough because you crank the heat up.
Well, let me tell you how Randy used to do it. After practice, I’d be standing at my locker. Randy would be in his towel …
“Hey Fatty,” he’d say (that’s just how he talked — he didn’t mean anything by it). “Come on man, let’s go take a steam.”
I’m acting like it’s no big deal. But it’s Randy Moss, man. It’s Randy Moss.
So we go into this big wooden sauna, and Randy cranks the heat all the way up, and he starts dropping some wisdom on me.
“Listen rook, lemme tell you something, man.”
And then he starts giving me all kinds of veteran knowledge. Where to go, where not to go. How to take care of your body. All the little things you have to do to stick around in the NFL.
Now, let me remind you, this is Randy Moss. I’m an undrafted defensive lineman. And let me also remind you, it’s getting ridiculously hot in this sauna. He’s not knowing that I’m totally starstruck. I’m just trying to hold it together, but I’m also trying not to pass out.
But Randy’s just getting started.
“… so that’s how you deal with the refs. Hey Fatty, hang on.”
Then Randy gets up and grabs a bucket of cold water and starts splashing the walls of the sauna. If you’ve never been in a wet sauna before, this is like putting more wood on a fire. Now we’re up over 180 degrees. Steam is flying around everywhere. I can’t even see Randy’s face.
I can just hear that voice.
“… and that’s how you deal with the coaches, man. Alright Fatty, hang on.”
He gets up again.
Now he comes back with a huge Gatorade cooler filled with crushed ice. I can’t see anything but steam. I just hear the ice sloshing around, and I’m thinking, Oh my god, this dude is gonna kill me.
Randy dumps the ice on top of the sauna cage, and instantly — it’s an inferno, man.
He’s not done.
Randy’s method is to triple the heat. He sits down and starts waving a towel around. Dude is fanning the flames. All the while, he’s schooling me.
“… you understand me, rook? That’s how you gotta do it, man.”
(Me, just trying to stay conscious)
“Yeah, Randy … Okay, man … You got it.”
I didn’t know a sauna could get that hot. And I didn’t know a human being could sweat so much. I’d walk in there a defensive lineman and walk out a safety. And dude would still be sitting there when I finally tapped out.
I don’t know how he did it. And at the time, I couldn’t understand why one of the best wide receivers in the history of the game would take time to show the ropes to an undrafted defensive tackle from Mississippi State.
When you talk about what makes the Patriots the Patriots, that’s it. It’s how Randy was with me. That’s the stuff you don’t see on TV that makes the franchise so successful.
In the NFL, stuff doesn’t work like how you think it works when you’re a kid.
Take my final preseason game as an undrafted rookie back in 2010. Before the game, I didn’t really know where I stood. Nobody comes by your locker and tells you, “Hey, you gotta do this and this to make the team.”
This was my last chance. So I get on the field and play my normal downs. But nobody ever calls me off the field. I’m a DT. I’m supposed to come out. I keep looking at the sidelines.
Nobody’s getting rotated in. The veteran guys are just kickin’ it. They have their feet up, they’re joking around.
I get a sack, make a bunch of tackles, make some plays.
Look to the sideline again. Nothing.
They kept me out there for the whole game, just to test me. At a certain point, I’m looking at coach like, Help.
He’s probably looking at me like, Oh you want some snaps, rookie? Here’s some snaps. Prove it.
I have never been so tired in my entire life.
By the fourth quarter, I was so winded that I had to go into the locker room for oxygen. But I made my point. I could play.
After the game, it was weird, because it’s not like high school tryouts where the coaches post the roster up on the wall and everybody gathers around. Of course, you probably know that. And I knew that, to a certain extent. But what I didn’t know is that not getting a call is a good thing.
I was sitting on my couch during final cut day, watching TV, and I hadn’t heard anything. Nothing from the coaches. Nothing from the GM.
Then my mom called me:
“Congratulations on what?”
“You made it!”
“What the hell are you talking about, mamma?”
“You made the team. I just read it on the Internet.”
All of a sudden, my phone was blowing up. Everybody was calling me and texting me congratulations.
“What the hell are you talking about, mamma?”
What’s crazy is, I was excited, but in the back of my mind, I didn’t 100 percent believe it. Hours went by, and nobody from the Patriots called me. Not even my D-line coach hit me up. I swear, I didn’t totally believe I made the team until I walked into the facility the next day and saw my name and number above my locker.
That’s when it sunk in. I was a Patriot.
Being as green as I was back then, I didn’t even understand how rare it is for an undrafted player to make the final roster. Turns out, it’s really, really rare.
You know what’s crazy, though? Football isn’t the only thing that doesn’t quite work like how you imagined it. Life is like that, too.
I had a great, great run with the Patriots for three seasons. I got to play next to Vince Wilfork (my buddies used to call me Big Vince in college). What an honor, man. We went to the Super Bowl in 2011. Then the AFC Championship 2012.
But after the 2012 season, I started feeling really weird.
I was going to the bathroom a lot. My throat was always dry. I was always exhausted. I wish I could tell you that I went right to the doctor. I didn’t. To be honest, I thought maybe I was just in a funk.
When I came back from offseason training, I had my routine physical with the Patriots. After the tests, one of the team doctors came up to me:
“Hey Kyle, did you have breakfast this morning?”
“Of course. I’m a defensive tackle.”
Then he told me that my blood sugar levels were a little high. It could be normal, but they needed to check me out.
They did some more tests. Then they did some more tests.
Then they dropped a bombshell on me: I had Type 2 diabetes.
It was a shock, but I expected the team to want to work with me through it. But that wasn’t the case. For a few weeks, the Patriots went silent on me. I didn’t know what to think.
After three years giving everything I had to the team, I was reduced to being a legal complication.
Once again, I was left waiting on a phone call.
Eventually, I got called in for a meeting at the facility. That’s never a great sign. (Again, you never want a phone call.) It went like this:
“Kyle, you’re a diabetic. We don’t know how your body might react during the summertime.”
Immediately, I thought, Hold up, I’ve been in camp three years now in Foxborough and it has never been over 75 degrees.
This sounded more like an excuse than a tangible reason for wanting to cut me.
In so many words, they said that they didn’t want to be liable if I were to have any health complications during training camp. From the sound of it, they didn’t think I would be able to function at an NFL level. After three years giving everything I had to the team, I was reduced to being a legal complication.
Honestly, my attitude was, If you don’t want me, that’s fine. That’s the business. I came here undrafted and felt fortunate to have been with such a great organization. But keep it real with me.
I would have understood. I’m a big guy, but I’m not particularly tall. If you look at the guys the Patriots started bringing in, they were a little longer than me. I could see the writing on the wall. This is turning into a passing league, so teams are loading up on guys shaped more like J.J. Watt than Vince Wilfork.
I’m understanding, I know how the NFL works. If you want to switch up your defense, who am I to stop you?
But blaming it on my diabetes really hurt me.
In the aftermath, I had people contacting me from all over telling me that I should sue the organization. But I never wanted to go that route. The Patriots gave me a chance. They were good to me. At least until I wasn’t good for them.
That’s the NFL. That’s the business.
They gave me two options:
- Retire for a year and then possibly come back the following season.
- If I wanted to play that season, it wasn’t going to be with the Patriots. They’d have to release me so I could find another team.
I wasn’t about to retire. I wasn’t about to let another party dictate my career like that.
I told them right away, I’m going to play.
So the Patriots released me.
The next two years were tough. I was bouncing around on practice squads. Now I’m trying to make teams as an undrafted dude with diabetes. What’s the odds on that?
For a while, I thought my career was done for. The hardest part was having all of these great NFL players texting me, telling me that I was a great athlete who deserved to be in this league. Who deserved to start in this league.
That motivated me. I kept on fighting. My weight became an obsession.
As a defensive tackle, you’re supposed to weigh as much as possible. As a diabetic, you have to be on a strict diet. It never crossed my mind how difficult it might be attempting to stay at my playing weight while also going on a diet where I had to keep close track of every little thing.
It wasn’t until I signed with the Carolina Panthers in 2014 that I realized exactly how tough this would be. They didn’t need me to be particularly heavy, but I still needed to be a 300-pound man.
They wanted me at 310, which I could do. For a few days. But then one day I’d step on a scale and see that I was 300. I’d never been that light during my playing career. I even got down to 299. What was I doing wrong?
I’ll say it again: Life is unexpected, man.
I was at a mall in Charlotte for an event when I met a little girl who was a Type 1 diabetic. She knew my story, and she told me hers. I’m an NFL defensive tackle and she’s in middle school, but we connected in this very special way. I even learned a few things about the disease that I had no idea about. Stuff like how many carbs are in a burger bun and pre-packaged fruit cups. The kind of stuff a guy my size never thinks about.
After that, I did everything possible to look at my diet from every angle. It took a ton of research and frustration, but this season I’m steady at 315 and having one of the most productive seasons of my career on the best team in the NFL. I guess I wasn’t ready to retire after all.
Honestly, I’m not mad at the Patriots anymore.
But I would love to play them in the Super Bowl.
Not out of any kind of bitterness, but just to show that I’m not a liability. In fact, I’m better than ever.
Whatever the future holds, at least I can say this to the Patriots: Thank you for the opportunity. But I told y’all I was gonna play. I told y’all I wasn’t going to let this keep me down.
I told y’all.