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Here's The Catch: Maxx Williams Overcomes Drop Foot To Produce For Cardinals

Tight end hoping to serve as inspiration for other athletes with condition

Tight end Maxx Williams blows a kiss to his family after the home game against the Chargers this season.
Tight end Maxx Williams blows a kiss to his family after the home game against the Chargers this season.

The catch only was worth seven yards on the field, but worth so much more to Maxx Williams.

The veteran tight end breaks into a wide smile reminiscing about the play in Mexico City in Week 10, a throw from Colt McCoy that represented the first reception Williams had made – and the first time he had even been tackled -- since having his knee shredded and his career nearly ended Week 5 of 2021.

"It was good for me mentally to get tackled, get hit right in the legs and to hop up and think, 'I can still do this,' " Williams said.

Williams was finally re-signed to the 53-man roster this week after spending a midseason stint on the practice squad. His story is about much more than returning from just an ACL tear.

Williams has suffered from drop foot since last offseason – coach Kliff Kingsbury had previously referred to Williams' nerve damage, but Williams had held off speaking about it specifically until now – a condition that leaves him unable to feel his right foot and have to drag it while walking. He wears a special brace on the field that essentially picks up his foot for him and has allowed him to return to play.

On the field, he said, he feels no different than before he was injured.

"I didn't know if I could play football again," Williams said. "I didn't know if I could walk again. Heck, at that point, which I found out with nerve (damage), I didn't know if I would be able to use my foot again, we didn't know anything. We still don't know everything."

His situation left both he and the Cardinals with questions. The Cardinals drafted Trey McBride in the second round of May's draft, understanding Williams' return might be impossible.

Williams questioned his own status. But Williams' personality, always one of the brightest in the locker room since arriving in 2019, helped guide him to try.

"That's when I made the turning point, right before training camp," Williams said. "I want to look myself in the mirror or tell my (baby) son down the road that I did everything I could to try and come back and play, and if I made it, I made it.

"But if I looked at camp and did everything I could to come back and play and I just couldn't do it anymore? I could live with that. I couldn't live with myself or look in the mirror not knowing if I could or couldn't."

He talked with former NFL quarterback Alex Smith and Giants linebacker Jaylen Smith, both of whom had good careers derailed when severe knee injuries also led to cases of drop foot.

Wife Amanda also gets a bulk of the credit from Williams. Amanda was seven months pregnant when Williams first got hurt. He was non-weight bearing for 12 weeks after his initial surgery. Amanda helped steady the household through Maxx's darkest days.

Once training camp began, Williams was on the Physically Unable to Perform list, limited to running through cones and hitting a trainer with a bag. He begged to come off the list, to be able to practice. His drop foot was there, but he began to beg the coaches to activate him.

"I was like, 'Look, I'm going to have to do it eventually. And I'm sick of hitting a bag with a trainer. I've got to play football to see if I can play football,' " Williams said.

He did, well enough to make the team, well enough to earn playing time as the blocking tight end with No. 1 Zach Ertz. He became a mentor to McBride. And he delivered, as he always had, in the locker room.

It wasn't perfect, and eventually he was released and put on the practice squad to see if he could improve. When Ertz got hurt, however, the Cardinals needed him once again.

"I don't know how he does it," fellow tight end Stephen Anderson said. "To come back and be so positive to the room and such a leader to the room and such a great energy guy to the room, it speaks to what he is at his core. Tremendous amount of respect for him."

One reason Williams wants to talk about his condition now is to be able to give hope to other athletes, maybe a kid in college in a similar situation. From what he has learned from doctors, he won't ever get full function back in his foot and "I've accepted that."

But he's playing football. He's making catches -- well, at least one so far -- and he's teasing McBride in the locker room during an interview, and that's enough to keep Williams smiling.

"I was self-conscious about (my foot)," he said. "I had to deal with it. Now it's like, I don't care if people know. I am out there doing something no one thought I could ever do.

"I love what I do. I'm fortunate to play a kids' game every day of my life. And it was almost taken from me."

Images of the Cardinals Cheerleaders from our Week 14 game against the New England Patriots

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