Raiders TE Darren Waller: Pro Bowl spot 'real satisfying' given past struggles

Darren Waller's inspiring comeback tale from the depths of addiction to the heights of pro football's elite has reached a new milestone.

Waller was named a 2021 Pro Bowler on Monday, joining fellow tight end Travis Kelce (the AFC starter at the position) on the roster.

Waller's selection culminated a long, arduous journey that included Waller spending more than a year suspended due to multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policy, and a stay on Baltimore's practice squad before landing with the Raiders.

He's flourished with the Silver and Black, catching 183 passes for 2,112 yards and 11 touchdowns in 30 games since joining the team in 2019. He's become especially productive in finding the end zone in 2020, scoring eight of those 11 touchdowns this season, and he's evolved into a defined weapon and threat to all opposing defenses on a weekly basis.

Waller wouldn't have reached this point had he not first overcome his struggles with substance abuse. He spoke on that battle and where he is now during an appearance with NFL Network's Jim Trotter and Steve Wyche on the Huddle & Flow podcast.

"The first word that pops into to my mind is: necessary," Waller said of the journey that saw him banned from football for more than a year. "There's a lot of ways I approached life back then, I wanted other people to approve of me, other people to affirm of me. I just wanted to be accepted. I didn't want to stand (out). I wanted to be normal, I didn't want to be different.

"Now, where my life has turned and changed I feel like I have been able to set myself apart by being different. By going against the grain and doing things that a lot of people may not be doing. And that's what's helped me get to this place today. So, I had to fail. I had to go through everything, and it was necessary for me to sitting on this call with y'all today."

Waller's success is just the latest story of an individual overcoming addiction to find a better purpose, and his happens to be catching passes and scoring touchdowns in the NFL. His efforts have been rewarded with his Pro Bowl selection, and though he won't participate in the actual game due to its COVID-19-related cancellation, it doesn't make the honor any less enjoyable for him.

"It makes it real satisfying, honestly," Waller said. "It's something that I can just sit back and reflect on and realize how blessed I am. But also I can see it from a perspective of not being complacent from it. Knowing that it's a process going forward. I'm still going to have to go to work tomorrow and prepare.

"It's always going to be something that's going to continue, and I feel like in order to show that I deserve this award is to continue to improve, continue to grow and not settle on this."

Waller's tale serves as a model for those striving to become a better version of themselves by moving beyond substance abuse to a brighter future. His peers have recognized his growth with this honor, which appears to be just the first in a still bright future at 28 years old.

You can hear the full episode of the "Huddle & Flow" podcast hosted by Steve Wyche and Jim Trotter on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcast provider.

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