Trent Williams’ toughness is legendary, a gritty reputation built on the football field by delivering punishing, bone-rattling blocks.
A private man by nature, Williams faced a scary opponent that once endangered his life.
The San Francisco 49ers’ All-Pro offensive tackle and Houston area resident underwent multiple surgeries two years ago to remove a rare sarcoma on his scalp. Diagnosed with dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a type of cancer, Williams overcame this intense medical ordeal. He was subsequently traded from the Washington Football Team to the 49ers last year and was selected to his eighth Pro Bowl after producing arguably his best season.
Now the highest paid offensive lineman in the game after signing a six-year, $138 million contract that includes $55.1 million guaranteed this offseason to remain with the 49ers after being recruited as a free agent by the Kansas City Chiefs, Williams is sharing his story through a personal documentary about his life and his courageous bout with cancer.
Williams celebrated his 33rdbirthday with family and friends during a recent private screening of the documentary “Silverback: The Trent Williams’ Story” at the Ipic Theaters in River Oaks. The documentary, directed by Jared Zwerling of CloseUp360 in partnership with Williams’ agent and executive producer, Vincent Taylor of Elite Loyalty Sports, spotlights Williams’ medical odyssey and provides a unique window into his life, including his business pursuits, private family moments and his passion for philanthropy.
It’s an extremely emotional story and moment for Williams, whose documentary will be released publicly this fall.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Williams said. “I invited some of my closest friends to partake in something very outside of my character as far as being open about myself and doing a documentary. It’s a bag of mixed emotions. I’m happy that it all came together. It means a ton. I know I’m blessed. I know that I had the right support system around me.
“I did come from a long, tough road. Even for a guy who’s had the success I’ve had, my road was still rocky. It’s a blessing and an honor to still be here and still do what I love. Even without the documentary, I’m extremely blessed. I just want to open it up to everyone to show them how blessed I am to get through what I got through.”
Williams endured a lot, including the uncertainty and frustration of dealing with a cancerous growth first noticed by the Washington medical staff in 2013 and being told by them that it wasn’t serious at the time. After not reporting initially due to his displeasure with how the medical situation was botched, demanding his release or a trade, being placed on the reserve-did not report list and then later being placed on the reserve non-football injury list while Williams was still dealing with the effects of the surgeries on his scalp, which made it uncomfortable for him to wear a helmet, he was traded to the 49ers for third-round and fifth-round draft picks and reunited with coach Kyle Shanahan.
“I think it’s an amazing opportunity to share your story and what he was able to overcome,” said Adrian Peterson, Williams’ close friend, business partner at O Athletik and former Oklahoma and Washington teammate. “I think it will inspire a lot of people.”
Nicknamed “Silverback,” Williams has a large tattoo of the gorilla on his back and owns an elaborate and expensive bejeweled gorilla chain. Williams was the top-ranked offensive tackle in the NFL last season with a 91.9 grade, according to the analytics site Pro Football Focus.
“Incredible,” said Zwerling, a former NBA sportswriter who’s the founder and president of CloseUp360. “Just the perseverance of overcoming a life-threatening sarcoma on his scalp and the doctor having to basically reconstruct his entire scalp. Trent went through multiple surgeries. His life was very close to the end. The situation was really unique.
“One in 1,000 people see this type of situation. His life was weeks away from being a life-threatening situation. He had a very rare sarcoma in his scalp. It almost went into his brain. He had to go through emergency surgery. He missed a whole year and comes back and dominates at his position for the 49ers, probably has his best season and then signs the biggest contract for an offensive lineman in NFL history.”
Zwerling was granted access to every aspect of Williams’ life, meeting with him all over the country over the past year to make the documentary.
“He made a huge impact off the field in real estate and with his impact as a father for his three young daughters,” Zwerling said of Williams, an owner of O Athletik along with his friend, NFL veteran running back Adrian Peterson. “He’s a very diverse guy. The thing about Trent is it’s not just his perseverance, but how he’s able to blend in in every situation, whether that’s on his big ranch in Texas or going to Miami and Prime 112 and mingling with musicians or going to Cabo with his family and seeing that laidback side of him or his real estate development for low income housing to help families, Trent has a way of making an impact with very few words. He’s a very calculated man. He’s a very fascinating guy, a very unique businessman and an incredible father.”
At 6-foot-5, 320 pounds, Williams’ trademark power, strength and mobility set him apart on the field and protects his teammates from hard hits. Showing his vulnerability as a survivor is another side of Williams he became comfortable with after initially being reluctant to tell his story this way.
“I’m excited to see this project come to fruition,” Taylor said. “I thought the viewing was even more compelling than living it and being on the front lines with Trent through 2019 when he went through his life-threatening scare with cancer to overcome it and become the highest paid offensive lineman in NFL history. I talked to Trent about how to instead of being someone who’s a name in the football world, let’s be the person who helps change the world by bringing awareness to what you went through. It’s all about changing the world.”
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 seasons, including the Texans, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars. He has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128.