Carolina Panthers

Carolina Panthers DT Kyle Love determined to not let diabetes define him

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love (61) was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2013, but he says he refuses to let the disease define him.
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love (61) was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 2013, but he says he refuses to let the disease define him. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

In spring 2013, Kyle Love reported to the New England Patriots’ offseason workouts just as he had done every season since joining the team in 2010.

Love, a defensive tackle, was prepared for the regular routine of strength and conditioning activities and medical checkups, with no idea his NFL career was about to change completely.

After team doctors examined him, Love received a phone call he’ll never forget.

“They called me the next day, like, ‘Hey, we want to test you again. Your blood sugar came in a little high and we think you might have diabetes,’” Love said. “They came in, tested me again and found out I did have Type II diabetes.

“After that, it just kind of went downhill.”

The Patriots released Love via a nonfootball-illness designation shortly after his diagnosis. He spent time with two teams in 2013, then was a free agent in 2014 until the Carolina Panthers signed him in December.

Now he’s looking to prove diabetes hasn’t stopped him.

Born in South Korea, Love, 28, grew up in a military family. His father, Anthony, served as a colonel in the U.S. Army, and the family bounced around the world before establishing residence in College Park, Ga.

Kyle, 6-foot-1 and 315 pounds, wasn’t always as imposing a presence as he is today. Love’s father said that, as a child, his son dealt with enlarged adenoids, which can cause eating problems.

“He always had little stick legs,” Anthony said. “They did a surgery while I was overseas. Once he got well, that’s when he discovered the refrigerator. He was eating everything in his way.”

The position I play demands me to be big. Having diabetes, you’re supposed to lose weight to help out the diabetes. I can’t lose the weight, because if I lose the weight I don’t have a job.

Carolina defensive tackle Kyle Love on maintaining his size and still staying healthy

By the time Love started playing football, in seventh grade, he was one of the largest kids on the team. He played on the offensive and defensive lines at North Clayton High and grew from about 230 pounds as a freshman to 300 pounds as a senior. He practiced with the wrestling team but couldn’t compete because he was too big.

Despite his size and strength, basketball remained Love’s favorite sport.

“I bought all of these weights and stuff like that for him to train for football and get strong. He never would even pay attention to them,” Anthony Love said. “He was always out playing basketball.

“I told him one day, ‘Take a look at yourself. Nobody is going to give you a scholarship to play basketball. That’s not a basketball body. That’s a football body.’”

Love earned defensive and offensive lineman of the year honors his senior year at North Clayton en route to a football scholarship to Mississippi State.

He accumulated 21 starts in 44 total games for the Bulldogs and recorded 72 tackles over the course of his four-year collegiate career. He went undrafted in the 2010 NFL Draft before New England called, offering to sign him as an undrafted free agent.

“That was probably the greatest moment of my life, because I was already a Patriot fan,” Love said. “Just to know I’m about to be playing for one of the best coaches in the league (Bill Belichick) and with one of the best quarterbacks in the league (Tom Brady), it was just an amazing experience.”

After making New England’s roster out of training camp, Love established himself as a starter on the team’s interior defensive line. He started 29 games over three seasons, including the Patriots’ loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLVI.

Before the 2012 season, New England signed Love to a two-year contract extension worth $3.09 million; but he made it through only one year of the contract.

When Love reported to offseason workouts in 2013, he weighed about 20 pounds less than at the end of the previous season, weight he said he lost on his own. After his diabetes diagnosis, the Patriots said the disease was the source of his weight loss.

While his diagnosis was a surprise, Love said it wasn’t as shocking as the turn his career took after his diagnosis and release.

“I didn’t have the best eating habits, to be honest,” he said. “But at the same time, both my parents are diabetics. So it was pretty much bound to happen.

“But I didn’t expect to lose so much from it. I lost my whole career at the time for something that’s not really serious enough for a guy to say, ‘Hey, you can’t play here because you’re a diabetic.’”

Until the diabetes gets me off the field and I’m just terribly doing bad, then that would be a reason to tell a guy, ‘Hey, you can’t play no more. Your diabetes is killing you.’ Until then, don’t count me out.

Panthers defensive tackle on his pursuit to keep playing football

Love isn’t the first NFL player diagnosed with diabetes. Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (Type I) and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (Type II), are among a number of players who have battled the disease.

As a defensive tackle, however, Love’s size and strength are his most important assets, forcing him to find a balance with his diet.

“The position I play demands me to be big. Having diabetes, you’re supposed to lose weight to help out the diabetes,” he said. “I can’t lose the weight, because if I lose the weight I don’t have a job. But at the same time, I’ve got to keep on the weight to keep the job, and to keep the weight on I have to eat certain things I’m not supposed to eat.

“It’s just kind of a combination of things. You’ve just got to be a professional, take your medication, eat right and do everything you can to stay on the field and stay healthy at the same time.”

Carolina hasn’t been as concerned with the disease as other teams, Love says, and he sees himself as a good fit on the Panthers’ defensive line. And he’s determined to make sure his diabetes doesn’t define his future.

“It has been pretty difficult,” said Love of his journey since the diabetes diagnosis. “But at the same time, I’m going to keep on fighting and keep on pushing. Until the diabetes gets me off the field and I’m just terribly doing bad, then that would be a reason to tell a guy, ‘Hey, you can’t play no more. Your diabetes is killing you.’

“Until then, don’t count me out.”

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