*Updated, 2:25 p.m. ET
*Leonard Williams came to the Jets as a big, friendly, precocious defensive lineman out of the University of Southern California in the 2015 NFL Draft, not even 21 years old at the time.
Williams is still young, but he's come of age quickly in the NFL, as his being named the 2016 Curtis Martin Team MVP Award today by a vote of his teammates attests.
"It feels great to know a lot of my guys in the locker room backed me up and voted for me," Williams told Bart Scott when he was informed of the honor for an interview on this week's airing of Jets Flight Plan on CBS 2 on Sunday morning. "It's a pretty good feeling."
Williams, who goes by the nickname "Big Cat" in equal parts due to his big-cat-like quickness and his leonine mane of hair, is, at 22 years, 192 days, the youngest player among the 56 Jets and Titans to be awarded the team MVP. (No award was presented in 1960.) The previous youngest honoree was FB Clark Gaines, who was 4½ months older than Williams is now when he won the 1976 award.
"This is my first time playing under a defensive coordinator [Kacy Rodgers] two years back-to-back since high school," said Williams in explaining his rapid rise to leading the Jets heading into Sunday's finale against the Bills with seven sacks and 19 QB hits. "So I knew the system coming back this year and it just allowed me to play fast starting from OTAs."
Best Images of the Curtis Martin Team MVP
Some of the people Williams credits for helping to shape him as a young NFL D-line force are his father, then-Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware — who is the reason for Leo wearing that number at USC — and for Patriots/Raiders DE Richard Seymour. He also gives some love to Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, both former Jets MVPs, and the rest of his teammates in the Jets' defensive line room.
Williams is the third defensive lineman in the last four seasons and the seventh defensive player in the last eight seasons to win the Curtis Martin Team MVP Award. Both of those streaks were interrupted by only WR Brandon Marshall, who received last season's honor.
Head coach Todd Bowles at this morning's team meeting informed his players of Williams' award plus these five other team awards presented annually. We'll update this story with player comments as we get them.
Dennis Byrd Most Inspirational Award — Dennis Byrd
The "Most Inspirational" award was first given in 1992 to Dennis Byrd following his paralyzing on-field collision during that season. Then it was named after Byrd and presented each year to the most inspirational Jet by a vote of his teammates.
This year the award goes again to Byrd, this time posthumously after the former defensive lineman, who rose up and walked after his injury and spent the rest of his days coaching, ministering and "living a blessed life," died in a two-vehicle collision in Oklahoma in October at the age of 50.
"It's an incredible honor for Dennis' family to know he is that respected and thought of there," Angela Byrd said from the family's home. "Even in his death, he is still inspirational. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It means so much to us and we're grateful."
Marty Lyons Community Service Award — WR Quincy Enunwa
This year's award goes to Enunwa, the second-year wideout who was heavily involved in all aspects of the Jes' Community Relations program, including PLAY 60 programing, the launch of the team's flag football program with the NYC PAL, the SNY Play Ball Football Clinic, and high school football field grant donations to Whippany Park and Hanover Park high schools near the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center.
"It's great to give back, to meet the people in our community," Enunwa said. "That's something I've been doing since I was at Nebraska and I'm going to continue to do here, try to make people smile with the position I have. Giving back, I think that's the biggest thing.'
The award was first presented in 1990 to Lyons, the "Sack Exchange" member and long-time Jets radio analyst who has devoted his off-the-field endeavors to his foundation, which has been "celebrating the dreams of very special children for over 30 years."
Kyle Clifton "Good Guy" Award — Nick Folk and Bryce Petty
This award is presented to both Folk, the veteran placekicker, and Petty, the second-year quarterback. It's the fourth time since 1996 that the award, in a vote by the Jets' public relations staff, has been split. Folk also won the award solo in 2013 and is the first Jet to win it twice. Petty is the fifth QB to take the award, following last year's winner, Ryan Fitzpatrick.
"It's an honor to receive this award," Folk said. "I try to be myself and bring a positive attitude every day, have fun with it, and just come to work with a smile on my face."
Ed Block Courage Award — Muhammad Wilkerson
Wilkerson, the Curtis Martin Team MVP Award winner in 2013, receives the Ed Block award this year in a vote by his teammates. Wilkerson broke his leg in last season's final game at Buffalo. He spent the offseason rehabbing the injury, began training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list but came off it on Aug. 9, and played in all but one game despite being listed on all 48 of the inseason daily injury reports by the team.
The Jets have named their Block winner, part of the NFL-wide Ed Block Courage campaign, since 1984. Last year's team winner was Fitzpatrick.
Bill Hampton Award — Lachlan Edwards
Edwards, the Jets' rookie punter, takes this year's Hampton Award, which is presented to "the rookie who acts like a pro in the locker room" as voted on by the team's equipment staff and past winners.
"I appreciate the equipment guys for what they do for us," Edwards said. "They're here every day, they're here before me and after me, they pack our bags and for the most part set everything up for us. I always treat them as good as I can and look after my stuff so their job is a llittle bit smaller."
Current Jets who've won the "Hamp" are Petty last year, OL Dakota Dozier in '14, and CB Darrelle Revis way back in '07. It's been presented annually since 2004 in honor of the longtime Jets equipment manager.