By Sal Maiorana Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Before they became teammates with the Buffalo Bills this season, cornerback Shareece Wright and running back Mike Tolbert were together on the 2011 San Diego Chargers.
Yet just the other day, Wright found out that Tolbert was born with a heart defect and doctors warned his parents it was possible he’d never be able to live a normal life.
“I played with him in San Diego and I didn’t know he had gone through that as a baby,” Wright said.
The only reason Wright, and the rest of the Bills, found out about Tolbert’s tough start to his life is because each day coach Sean McDermott is having players and/or coaches stand up and share a little something about their life as a way to build a bond with each other.
“You want to get to know your teammates, that’s part of being a team, and knowing the guys around you, not just about them as a football player but as a person, and it brings us closer together,” said Wright, who said he’s never seen this tactic used during his career. “You take it a little more personal if you know a little about their life and what they’re going through personally and how they made it here. We all have a story, and every one is special in its own way.”
McDermott said this is not something that was done during his time in Philadelphia and Carolina, but as a defensive coordinator in both those places, he has always wanted to have a relationship with each of his defensive players and get to know them on a more personal level.
“Part of the reason we came here was to build this football team and when you build any type of team, as far as we’re concerned, you need to know your teammates,” he said. “What better way to know your teammate than for individuals to share their personal stories and what inspires them and who they play for.”
Only a portion of the players have stood up and talked so far, but already, there have been some eye-opening stories just like Tolbert’s.
“You don’t know what people are dealing with at home, and this is a great platform to kind of share that, and out of that we’ve grown closer, and we’ve found a lot of commonality in our lives,” said linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. “We’ve had two guys who had the same medical issues with themselves and their kids and they’re sharing this and now they can come together and support each other on an issue that might not have necessarily been talked about.”
Wright hasn’t spoken yet, but when he does, he’s not going to recount his $600 Uber ride from Chicago to Buffalo a couple months ago. He’s going to share the story of his junior season at USC when he suffered a broken vertebrae in his neck during a game and wasn’t aware of it for nearly a week.
Had he not complained of some discomfort a couple days before the next game, he probably would have played, and in that condition, the chances of him being paralyzed would have grown precipitously. He was rechecked, the break was diagnosed, he had surgery, he was in a neck brace for four months, and here he is eight years later still playing.
Defensive end Jerry Hughes spoke the other day, and he talked about the respect and love he has for his parents and what they’ve meant to him throughout his life.
“It builds great team chemistry,” Hughes said. “It’s allowing us to be open and vulnerable in front of our teammates and at the same time you get to know guys on a personal level, not just what they can do on a football field, but get to know the man behind the helmet. You get to find out more about each man’s personal life, their upbringing, their kids, and what means a lot to them and I think that’s fantastic.”
McDermott is a man who is well-grounded via his upbringing outside Philadelphia. He had hard-working parents who demanded respect and accountability from him and his brother, Tim. Alexander said it’s apparent to him, as he watches and listens to McDermott, that the coach wants the same respect and accountability from his players, but that he has a soft spot for them as people, too.
“Everything he talks about is out of love and relationships, and how can you have a relationship without really knowing (your teammates),” Alexander said. “You can’t go around to all 90 guys and find out who they are, so this is a great way to kind of intentionally do it and then you think, ‘Maybe I need to go to talk to this young guy’ or something like that.”
McDermott has really enjoyed getting to know the players on a more intimate level, and he truly believes it will make a difference on the field.
“I don’t want to act like we’re doing something that nobody else is doing, but it’s very intimate in nature and private in that way, as you can imagine,” he said. “You watch the look on the players’ faces and the staff's faces that are in there and it’s a pretty dialed-in moment of the meeting.”