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Willie Gay Jr. says his teammates helped him through last season’s off-field issues

In 2021, the Kansas City year linebacker struggled with his mental health — and found support among his teammates.

Kansas City Chiefs v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

On Thursday, we told you how third-year Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Willie Gay Jr. considers himself “the Juice Man” of the team’s defense.

Gay may be one of the defense’s emotional leaders, but nobody is immune to the struggles of life. There was a time early last season when Gay was facing some challenges in his personal life. At the time, he was open about his mental health journey and the difficulties he was facing.

On Wednesday, he elaborated further.

“My baby was born 16 weeks early,” he told reporters after the team’s practice session. “He’s healthy now and doing good, so there’s some weight taken off my shoulders.”

Gay said that the fear and uncertainty about his son’s health — and going back and forth from the Chiefs practice facility to the hospital — put an immense strain on him.

“I’m at the hospital every day after practice,” he recalled. “It was so tough being there until like 11 o’clock at night after getting out of practice at six o’clock.”

But in keeping with the theme of the offseason, Gay said it was his teammates who were there for him when he needed their support most. They helped pull him through.

“Khalen [Saunders] actually had a baby born right before that,” he said. “Chris [Jones] reached out to me, Tyrann [Mathieu] — just really all of the guys on both defense and offense. They knew what I was going through outside of here, with him being born so early. They helped me a lot — and helped me get through those times.”

At one point, Gay even contemplated temporarily stepping away from football.

“I was going to take some time off, honestly, but I just kept praying [and] staying strong — and my teammates kept me encouraged.”

Then on October 24th — just four days after his son was born — the Chiefs traveled to Nashville to face the Tennessee Titans in their Week 2 matchup.

It was a miserable day to be a Chiefs fan. Halfway through the second quarter, the Chiefs were already down 27-3. The Titans had marched 65 yards on 12 plays and found themselves knocking on the door to another touchdown. Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill threw a short pass that was intended for tight end Mycole Pruitt. But seemingly out of nowhere, Gay leapt into the quarterback’s throwing lane and plucked the ball out of the sky.

The Chiefs would go on to lose the game by a wide margin, but Gay said that catching the interception helped him keep going.

“It gave me a little hope,” he said, “because it was tough the first few weeks of the season.”

It wasn’t easy for Gay to keep going, but he did. And that might be the greatest testament to who he is — and to what he brings to the Chiefs defense. No matter what happens in 2022, Gay knows that he has what it takes to come out on top.

“I just pray this year will be a good year,” he said. “I know adversity will come, but I just gotta fight through it — now more than ever.”

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