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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Willie Colon

Catch Up with the Jets Legend from Hofstra

New York Jets guard Willie Colon looks to block against the Kansas City Chiefs during a week nine NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014 in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won the game, 24-10. (AP Photo/G. Newman Lowrance)

Becoming a free agent in 2013 following seven seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and helping them win Super Bowl XLIII, it took less time to have a pizza delivered than it did for Jets Head Coach Rex Ryan to reach out to the veteran guard from the Bronx, Willie Colon.

"There was speculation about a couple other teams, but I was really a free agent for like 20 minutes," Colon said. "I got a call from Rex and he was like, 'Hey, man, we know you're a New Yorker. It's time to come home.' I played against him when he was with Baltimore and the Jets, so we knew of each other. It was just a matter of me going home and seeing if the New York Jets was going to be a fit for me."

Even though he grew up as a Giants fan and credits Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor as one of the reasons why he played football, Colon and the Jets had a history even before Ryan picked up the phone – Hofstra University.

A student-athlete when the Jets were based there, Colon, who was named as a first-team I-AA All-American by the Walter Camp Foundation, Associated Press, and the American Football Coaches Association as a senior, knew the pros were there because they had a job to do.

"We were fortunate enough at the time when I was there that Herm Edwards was there (as the Head Coach)," Colon said. "He would go for a run around the campus and occasionally would come by and just kind of drop words of inspiration and wisdom to the team.

"Obviously, the Jets, considering they were on campus, we would always see Santana Moss, (Vinny) Testaverde, (Kevin) Mawae, and those guys while they were in their heyday. But I never had any one-on-one conversations with those guys. You just knew who they were. You're a young college kid and you're playing college football, you know who the pros are, and you try to just give them their space."

While Colon was essentially getting a fresh start by signing with the Jets, they were, in a sense, getting a fresh start themselves.

"Guys like Jason Taylor and I think Bart (Scott) had just left the team. A lot of the key older guys, the veteran guys in that locker room, were no longer there," Colon said. "When I arrived, I knew Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson. I knew (Antonio) Cromartie was going to be there, Dave Harris.

"But Nick and Brick, they were part of my draft class. So part of the selling point for me was to play alongside Nick and Brick. They had played at such a high level for so long. I had so much respect for them, for what they did on the field. And to be a part of that offensive line and playing along those two really was kind of like, 'Man, we can do something special here.'"

Winning three of the first five games to begin the 2013 season, Colon was able to experience his own Homecoming Weekend when Pittsburgh traveled to MetLife Stadium for a Week 6 showdown with the Jets.

"It was surreal. The Steelers, that organization from top to bottom, is all about excellence. If you've ever watched (Head Coach) Mike Tomlin's press conference, it's about the standard, and the standard is being the most physical outfit and winning games and winning Super Bowls. And so me being a part of that for so long, and knowing everybody on that sideline, it felt like I was kind of the outcast from my own tribe," Colon said.

"I remember going to the coin toss and seeing Brett Keisel and Ben Roethlisberger and all those guys. They're like my brothers. And during the coin toss, the ref is talking, and me and Ben are actually having a conversation. I'm not even listening to the ref. We were just kind of joking and catching up.

"They're like my family. When you go to multiple playoff appearances, and you go to Super Bowls, and you're a part of those journeys, man, that's a bond and a chemistry that can never be broken. So being on that field, looking at my family and being in another jersey, was definitely a surreal moment."

Perhaps not surreal, but a first-time moment Colon experienced nonetheless, was seeing his head coach let go. While Tomlin was and is a mainstay in Pittsburgh, he saw Ryan shown the door following a 4-12 season in 2014.

"I love Rex. He was just extremely loyal," Colon said. "You know, one of my biggest regrets is that we didn't win enough for Rex, because his heart and his mind was all about the New York Jets. And it was all about him doing his best for every guy in that locker room.

"Those are some of the dark memories of my career, because I know how much he wanted to win. I know how much preparation and how much fire he had in his belly every Sunday to go win one game. I just wish some of the guys I played with shared that same fire."

In 2015, Colon's third with the Jets, suffering a knee injury in Week 8 against Oakland and being placed on I.R. 10 days later, would bring the finish line of his 10-year NFL career in sight.

"I think some of my fondest memories is what I came to New York to do, to play alongside Nick and Brick, to come home and play in my own city, to hear my name getting called out of the tunnel, you know, being a kid from the Bronx," Colon said. "I really tried to make a difference, honestly. I wanted to win. I was used to winning. I wanted to be a part of a winning culture.

"I thought, even though some of the transitions the team was going through year after year, I still felt like we were just a couple players away from really kind of making an impact or changing the culture in that building. It just never happened. So overall, the relationships I developed in that building, the people that I got to know, my teammates who I still talk to today, those are all things that I take away from me being a Jet."

Participating in the NFL's Sports Journalism and Broadcast Boot Camps as a player allowed Colon to be on the other side of the microphone and learn about the preparation and landscape of the business. But it was more so an observation from his wife, Aikisha Holly Colon, which led him into broadcasting.

"I give all praise to my wife. I was very bitter when I left the field because I wasn't ready to leave the field. My knees were bad and I just couldn't play anymore from a physical standpoint," Colon said. "After I did a couple spots on SNY and Daily News Live, she's like, 'Hey, if you if you want this, if you take it seriously, this can be a career for you.'

"Even with that said, I was still very much up and down about it because a lot of times for ballplayers, you're going to hear, 'Be yourself.' Well, you don't know what you are in a new world, right? You know who you are as a football player because you've been doing it for so long. But when you step into a new profession, you have to start at zero and you have to learn and build yourself up along the way."

The Jets' pre- and post-game analyst on SportsNet New York and an analyst on The Carton Show on FS1, Colon also hosts The Why Willie?! podcast, which can be seen on YouTube. He also appears on the Oprah Winfrey Network [OWN] reality series, Belle Collective, which his wife is a cast member.

"We just wrapped up a season, so it'll be coming out next fall," Colon said. "Yeah, I just continue to push the envelope and try to grow. I'm excited about all the opportunities that do come in front of me. It's just a matter of growing and getting better as I go."

Additionally, the Colons, who have two children: William Muriel IV and Holly LaSonia-Grace; and make their home in North Jersey, are the founders of the Willie and Aikisha Colon Foundation.

"The four initiatives are youth sports, health and wellness, education, and economic development. When I was able to really kind of retire and try to figure out what was next, it was important for me to try to re-connect back to my community. I had done different things here and there, but this was an opportunity for my wife and I to get more entrenched in the needs of my community," Colon said.

"I think a lot of times when guys have foundations or charity events, there's this kind of deception, alright, I'm going to do this great deed and disappear until the next great deed needed to be done. And I didn't want that. I always wanted it to feel like it was going to be a consistent process for us to be a part of the community and having an identity within the community. That was one of the main reasons why I opened my bar probably 10 minutes from where I grew up. It's called Bricks & Hops, and one of our main things with our bar is to only hire people in the Bronx. That's part of our economic development even though it's not a part of the foundation, but they're parallel to each other."

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