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Rookie Will Pericak Overcoming Diabetes

Posted May 26, 2013

Diagnosed when he was 15, DE Will Pericak has to constantly monitor his body.

He’s been giving himself injections.

“Going into a locker room with a bunch of new guys, they see someone injecting themself and they’re like, ‘Oh my God, he’s doing steroids!’” Pericak said with the laugh.

No, it’s not steroids. It’s Pericak dealing with Type-1 diabetes.

The former Colorado defensive tackle was diagnosed with the disease when he was 15 years old. Ever since, he’s proven that diabetes doesn’t have to be a roadblock.

Pericak (pronounced PRE-check) reportedly got the biggest signing bonus ($13,500) of any undrafted rookie in this year’s class, a sign of Baltimore’s interest. Despite his diagnosis, he's a rookie to keep an eye on this summer.

“Diabetes shouldn’t hold you back from your dreams,” Pericak said. “You can do anything. Look at me, I’m getting a chance to play in the NFL.”

Pericak had some help when it came to dealing with his diagnosis and treatment.

His older brother, Thomas, was diagnosed with the rare condition (only five percent of those with diabetes carry Type-1) when he was in first grade.

So when Will started losing weight despite a stringent weight-lifting regiment, drinking a Gatorade every 10 minutes and had blurry vision, his parents went to the diabetes tester. Sure enough, Will had it.

Type-1 diabetes is a genetic condition that impairs the production of insulin, which regulates the body's utilization of sugars and other carbohydrates.

If the blood sugar is too high, a diabetic can become tired. In that case, insulin is needed. If the blood sugar is too low, a diabetic may experience blurred vision, shaking and confusion. In that case, the diabetic may need to consume sugar- or carbohydrate-rich food or liquids.

The fact that older brother Thomas had already been dealing with the disease, and that it didn’t stop him from playing basketball all four years at Boulder High School, was instrumental for Will.

“I’ve seen it my whole life,” Will said. “It wasn’t too scary for me because how he’s dealt with it and managed it, and done everything he’s wanted to do in his life. It was more just like, ‘Well, crap.’”

What’s essential in dealing with diabetes is management. It’s all about being mindful of how the body will react to different foods and exercise levels. Those are two major parts of playing football – eating and working.

Thus, Pericak must be constantly mindful of his condition.

During Colorado games, he would check himself six or seven times a game, or about every other series. He didn’t want to get confused or lethargic on the field, because that could mean giving up a big play.

It never impacted his play, Pericak said, besides maybe the occasional snapping at a teammate.

“If I was ever grouchy or freaked out about something, my teammates would be like, ‘Will are you low?’ I’d be like, ‘Yeah I might be,’” Pericak said with a laugh. “It’s good to have teammates that know and look for those types of things.”

Pericak said he checks his blood sugar levels about nine times a day during Ravens practices. He gives himself insulin occasionally, or simply drinks a Gatorade if he’s too low.

“It’s always in the back of my head, and it’s always going to be extra steps in my day,” Pericak said.

“But it probably helps me stay healthy because you’ve got to be active, need more exercise, your insulin sensitivity is better, your control is better. It helps you eat better, be healthy. It probably helps you be a better football player.”

The Ravens had Pericak in for a visit before pursuing him as an undrafted rookie free agent.

They liked his college production. The 6-foot-4, 285-pounder set a Colorado record by starting all 49 games during his career. He recorded more than 200 tackles during that time

The Ravens and their doctors looked into Pericak’s diabetes. Pericak said Baltimore “didn’t see it as a big issue” because they know he does a good job of managing it.

The New England Patriots may not have had the same comfort level with defensive tackle Kyle Love, who was released on May 15 with the designation of a non-football injury on May 15 following being diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes.

Love was quickly snatched up by the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the release has brought up the issue of players with diabetes.

“I hope he wasn’t cut because of his diabetes,” said Pericak, who knows of the incident. “It’s something that’s easily manageable. It shouldn’t hold him back from playing.”

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