ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Kyle Williams knows he’s more than capable of returning for a 14th season. What the Buffalo Bills defensive tackle wasn’t sure he can handle is spending another spring and summer of practice and training camp watching his children play T-ball and soccer on FaceTime.
The lure of being with his family overcame Williams’ passion for football in announcing Friday that he’s retiring after Buffalo (5-10) closes its season hosting Miami (7-8) on Sunday.
“I love team. I love competing. But at the end of the day, it comes down to what are the most important things,” the 35-year-old Williams said following practice.
That still didn’t make it easy for Buffalo’s longest-active tenured player who established himself as a respected leader and fan favorite for his lunch-bucket approach in a blue-collar community.
“I don’t know if there’s ever a good time, whether it’s now or whether it’s two years from now. It’s going to hurt walking away,” Williams said. “There’s going to be a void in my life because of how much this game and how much this organization and what this team has meant to me.”
And yet, Williams is pleased to be leaving football on his own terms in being healthy and showing no signs of a drop in production.
What he’s most proud of is having spent his entire career in Buffalo, while also proving wrong the skeptics who questioned whether the 6-foot-1, 300-pound player was too small to succeed at the NFL level after the Bills selected him in the fifth round of the draft out of LSU.
“I think the hardest thing for me is going to be … walking away from something that they said I couldn’t do,” Williams said. “I think the main thing was that I never cheated anybody a day, whether it’s our fans, our owners, my teammates. I literally gave all I had every day. And I’m comfortable knowing that and moving forward here.”
Williams was a second-team All-Pro in 2010 and earned five Pro Bowl selections. He’s a Pro Bowl alternate this year, and welcomed the chance to compete if the opportunity came up to represent the Bills for one last time.
Williams made up his mind to retire upon informing his wife a few weeks ago, before breaking the news to coach Sean McDermott on Monday.
McDermott joked by calling the news “the worst Christmas present a man could get.”
The coach then went on to praise Williams for what he’s meant to the Bills both on and off the field.
“We need more Kyle Williams, although they’re hard to find,” McDermott said. “You can’t replace a guy like Kyle. They come around once in a career.”
Williams became McDermott’s voice in the locker room, and served as mentor for the numerous youngsters Buffalo added this offseason.
Williams’ influence even extended to offensive players, such as running back LeSean McCoy, who referred to the defensive tackle as one of the better leaders he’s ever been around.
“Solid career. He’s a guy that likes to go against the odds. I like him, man, I like his hard work,” McCoy said. “When I came here, I realized that type of play and attitude is what Buffalo is all about.”
Even opponents paid tribute with the New England Patriots posting a note on their Twitter account, which read, “Nothing but respect.” The post was accompanied by a video of Williams and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady shaking hands following New England’s 25-6 victory at Buffalo on Oct. 29.
Williams’ retirement creates a large void for the Bills both on and off the field. And it comes 11 months after Buffalo lost another influential leader, when center Eric Wood was forced to retire after sustaining a career-ending neck injury.
Out of 954 defensive plays through 15 games, Williams is second among Bills defensive linemen in playing 621 of them — four fewer than pass-rusher Jerry Hughes. Williams has five sacks, his most since having 5 1/2 in 2014, and has already surpassed last year’s totals with 13 quarterback hits and five tackles for losses.
Overall, he has 48 1/2 sacks, 139 quarterback hits and 92 tackles for losses in 182 career games.
He also scored on a one-yard touchdown run in a 22-16 win at Miami in last season’s finale, which, combined with Baltimore’s loss to Cincinnati, led to Buffalo clinching a playoff berth and ending a 17-year postseason drought.
Williams’ favorite moment was following being with his teammates in the locker room following the win, and watching Cincinnati eliminate Baltimore from contention on Andy Dalton’s 49-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Boyd on fourth down in the final minute.
What made the moment extra special was how Williams enjoying the moment with his two sons.
“They were pretty young, but I hope they’ll remember that forever, because their dad won’t forget,” he said.
Williams has no firm plans on what he’ll do next, while saying he’s had a discussion with McDermott about a possible role with the team.
Though the Bills have taken a step back this season, Williams believes the team is headed in the right direction under McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane, and their vision to build through youth.
“That’s what makes it tough moving away, because of the direction we’re moving, the young guys we have,” Williams said. “Just know that I’m always going to be a Buffalo Bill, and the main thing for those guys is they’ve got all my support.”
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/tag/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL