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Gopher tight end speaks on grandfather's surgery, special bond

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MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) -

Many college athletes have a lot on their plate, but Gopher tight end Maxx Williams has been juggling a lot more than sports and academics. He's also thinking about his grandfather, who recently underwent surgery.

The starting freshman has a lot of great role models in his family, but for now, the stand-out player says his mantra is "one day at a time."

Williams certainly has some pretty big shoes to fill. His father played at the University of Minnesota too before going on to a career in the NFL. His grandfather was the quarterback at Notre Dame, and was drafted by the Chicago Bears -- but turned that down to go to med school. The 19-year-old says he plans to reach for the stars, but also will keep his feet on the ground.

"I think everyone's eyes are on the league when they get into college football," Maxx Williams said. "Kind of like a dream for them, and hopefully, it turns into a reality for everyone."

During his collegiate debut, Williams caught a 10-yard touchdown pass against UNLV, and his father admits the moment made him very proud.

"We never pushed football on Maxx," Brian Williams said. "It literally just came natural."

That's high praise from a father who spent a decade with the New York Giants, but while the demands of class and football can be challenging -- one of the biggest hurdles Maxx Williams faced during the bye week was worrying about his grandfather.

"He says, 'Come on, Grandpa. Let's go and play some catch," Gary "Ozzie" Moonen recalled. "I said, 'OK.'"

Last weekend, doctors amputated "Grandpa Ozzie's" leg below the knee due to diabetes. It was his second surgery this season.

"He's always been that one I've been able to talk to and hang out with," Maxx Williams explained. "Me and him became really close, especially when I was in high school."

Both have fond memories of tossing the old pigskin around.

"He ran deep and I threw them all day," Moonen recalled. "Oh God, did we have some fun days doing that. It's unreal."

Although he tries to keep his head in the game, Maxx Williams concedes his heart is still with his family.

"I think just having that bond with my grandpa does keep it in my head a little bit, but when game time comes around, I know he'd be really mad at me if I let it bother me," he said.

Moon admits the separation anxiety is tough on him, and he gets angry that he can't go to his grandson's games. The starter's mother says hit's also tough on her son.

"I think it's been hard for Maxx since he's been at school because he doesn't get to spend a lot of time with his Grandpa, but he's calling him," Rochele Williams said.

In fact, the two talk each time he gets off the field.

"After the game, he's always the first to call me if he's not there and be like, 'Hey! How'd you do? I watched the game. Why'd you do this? Why'd you drop the ball?'" Maxx Williams said. "My biggest critic, but I know I love him and I know he loves me and I know he's always there for me."

If there's one thing Maxx Williams has learned from following his father's footsteps, it's that it's important to live in the moment and treasure what you have today.

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