A rookie season can be filled with so much hope, promise and a new beginning that can have an NFL player feeling at the top of the world.
Steelers' defensive end Nick Williams, the team's seventh-round draft pick last season never got to experience any of that excitement after suffering a season-ending knee subluxation shortly before the season was set to start.
Williams was placed on injured reserve on Aug. 25 as a part of the first mandatory roster cuts, a move that was disappointing while at the same time allowed him the chance to come back strong for 2014.
"The initial reaction was, 'What am I going to do now?" said Williams. "The Steelers are a great organization and they want to mold me into what they want to mold me into. It was gracious of them to keep me on the team and keep chugging along."
THE IMMEDIATE REACTION
The moment the injury happened Williams knew it wasn't good.
"I knew immediately," said Williams. "My knee cap subluxed. It popped out and popped back in."
The injury occurred during one of the team's practices at the UPMC Sports Performance Complex as camp and the preseason were winding down. Williams vividly remembers how it played out.
"I was rushing the passer and one of the linebackers was blitzing and the offensive lineman pushed him into my knee," said Williams. "My knee was extended. It hit my knee and it subluxed. It was pretty painful. When I fell to the ground I knew it was pretty serious."
It took some time before Williams was able to be scheduled for surgery, having to first gain more motion in the knee before anything could be done. He went to New York to have the procedure done at the Hospital for Special Surgery on Oct. 31, spending about three weeks post-surgery in the hospital and an adjoining facility.
"The specialist I went to wanted me there," said Williams. "I couldn't do very much, just getting used to crutches and getting around. It was tough. I didn't have any family there, but I am a grown man so it was fine. Once the doctor was comfortable with me getting around on crutches he let me come back to Pittsburgh."
When he returned to Pittsburgh his father, Frederick, came into town to help him as driving was out of the question and getting around was a huge challenge.
"It was a joy having him here, it was a big help," said Williams. "He drove me around the city, was here for about three or four weeks until I was able to bend my knee and drive on my own.
"As football players we always want to be macho and do things by ourselves. It's a learning experience having to depend on someone else. It was great having him here helping me in the normal day to day stuff."
USING HIS TIME WISELYWhile he wasn't able to do anything on the field, Williams used last year to learn as much of the defense as possible. He went to meetings, studied the playbook and watched film whenever he could.
"I couldn't play, but I got better mentally, better in the classroom just watching film," said Williams. "There were some pros and cons. I would have loved to have played. I wouldn't say it was a disappointing first season. It was just a stepping stone and something for me to grow from."
While he technically isn't a rookie any longer, he does admit that he is going to still feel that way when he first gets back on the field, but feels confident with time he will be right on track with his teammates.
"You just have to keep working at it, keep chugging along," said Williams. "I will have a slight advantage at least when I hear them call a play or defense, I will know what to do."
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP
Williams is happy to have the worst behind him. He doesn't have to depend on others to get around any longer. He got rid of the crutches in mid-January. He is now working to get back on the field, instead of dealing with just being a spectator like he was last year, something that was tough for him to deal with.
The pain from the injury and surgery has subsided, the only pain now coming from intense workouts with he goes through.
"It was a challenge getting the quad strength back to be able to walk normal again without a limp," said Williams. "I am able to walk without a limp now. It was just a process getting my knee motion back. It's coming back and looking good.
"You don't know how your body is going to react to certain things. I started getting a little impatient when I was on the crutches. Mentally just not knowing how your body is going to respond to rehab and how long it's going to take."
The timeline for a full recovery is four to six months post-surgery. Right now he is riding the exercise bike, using the Arc Trainer and Alter G treadmill, and much more.
Williams' goal is to be able to do some type of work during the team's OTAs next month, but knows there are a lot of steps to take before he gets to that point. He is sure there will be some tentativeness when he first returns, but he can't wait for the day to come.
"I am very anxious," said Williams. "I want to maximize every opportunity that is given to me. I am anxious to get back and show the coaches what I can do."