RENTON — As he walked through a hallway in Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium last Oct. 13 and toward a bus waiting to take the Seahawks back to Seattle, Will Dissly stopped to acknowledge the well wishes of a bystander.
“It’s all good,” said Dissly, who had just found out he’d torn his Achilles tendon.
But Dissly can admit now he was putting on a brave face.
Over the next few days, as the reality began to set in of the road ahead — another long recovery, a year after he had suffered a patellar tendon injury just four games into his rookie season — Dissly said the inevitable thoughts of “why me” began to creep in.
At the time of the injury, which he said was “a fluke deal” that occurred in the end zone as he was running a routine route, Dissly was off to one of the best starts of any tight end in the NFL with 23 receptions for 262 yards and four touchdowns through the first five games.
“I was on such a high,” Dissly recalled during a Zoom session with media members before practice Tuesday. “We had done such a great job with my knee and worked tremendously hard and was super prepared and the team was winning, we were having success. To go down again, it was kind of crushing, for sure. And I don’t want to say it lightly, but there was a good week or so where I was in a bad place mentally.”
Dissly didn’t keep his feelings to himself. If he had a message during the 20 minutes he talked Tuesday, it was about the power of reaching out.
“That was the beauty (of it),” Dissly said. “I was able to talk about it. I think that’s one thing (that) if you’re in a bad place you should be able to talk about it with your friends and family and lean on those to kind of bring you up. … It was hard to stay in the dumps when you had that much support.”
Dissly also remembered some of the lessons from a book he read while playing at Washington given to him by then-Husky coach Chris Petersen called, “The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness.”
“The main philosophy is what you look for is what you’ll find,” Dissly said. “And so if you go out and you’re looking for this thing, more than likely you’re going to find that thing. So if it’s a bad attitude, you’re going to find a not fun day, whereas if you’re looking for, ‘I’m going to make the most out of this day no matter what I have,’ more than likely that’s what’s going to happen.”
So, that’s what Dissly did.
After surgery and initial recovery in the Seattle area, he spent the offseason in Southern California rehabbing at the Meyer Institute of Sport alongside Seahawks teammate Rashaad Penny, who was recovering from an ACL injury suffered against the Rams in December.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said every time he asked how Dissly was doing, all he heard was that Dissly was as diligent in his rehab as anybody who had ever spent time there.
“Nine straight months he never missed anything, was never late for anything,” Carroll said.
Carroll joked that Dissly has “unfortunately” gotten “really good at rehab.”
While the injury was different, as was the process (to an extent), Dissly’s rehab the previous year gave him a sense of how to prepare for what was to come.
The toughest aspect was quelling the instinct to want to do too much too fast.
“The Achilles was really different (from the knee injury) in the sense that it (required) a lot of patience,” Dissly said. “We had a really successful surgery and the mentality initially was, ‘Don’t mess it up. Don’t slip and fall and put weight on it.’ … It was a lot of wait and don’t mess it up, let it heal. I wanted to work, and it was ‘relax and heal.’ It was definitely challenging.”
Dissly said he couldn’t point to any one specific day when he knew he’d turned the corner and would be back on a football field soon, just a lot of little steps along the way.
“You have to do things that make you uncomfortable, and then once you do those things, you know you have confidence moving forward,” he said. “So it’s a combination of days.”
There were days he was able to hike and days he was able to golf, and days he was able to run for 45 minutes “at some janky park” close to where he was staying that were all pivotal along the way.
It all led to the most pivotal moment of all — returning to the field with the Seahawks when training camp began in earnest last week. He officially rejoined a tight end corps Seattle thinks could be among the best in the NFL with the addition of veteran Greg Olsen and the return of Jacob Hollister and Luke Willson.
He felt the same feeling he’d had the year before, when he began camp after the knee injury, which Dissly equated to “Christmas morning.”
“I had a ton of confidence from rehab so there was never this fear of ‘I don’t know if I’m ready to put on pads,'” he said. “It was more of just the excitement of I’m putting pads on again, I’m playing the sport I love. I worked my tail off and there was a bit of celebration in my mind.”