When the big-toe injury that hobbled Corey Liuget all week flares up in Sunday’s game, as he suspects it will, the Chargers’ defensive tackle will flash back to the grit and determination his 6-week-old son, Corey Jr., showed when he came out of open-heart surgery five years ago.
And he’ll draw strength from it.
“Him fighting, giving all he had and going through all that pain inspires me,” Liuget, 27, said after Friday’s practice in preparation for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.
“To see him go through what he went through as an infant in that hospital bed leads me to feel like, ‘Hey, the sky is the limit for me.’ I push myself because I know my son is going to be something special too.”
The younger Liuget was born in 2012 with two heart defects. Before he was even two months old, he had surgery to plug holes in the walls between the two upper and two lower chambers of his heart.
“It was scary,” said the 6-foot-2, 300-pound Liuget, a seven-year starter. “They cracked his ribs open. He was on all types of medicine. It was tough, man. It makes you think about his future. It makes you think about everything.”
Today, Corey Jr. is a healthy, energetic, fun-loving 5-year-old, “and to see him now, you wouldn’t be able to tell he had surgery,” Liuget said.
A year after his son’s surgery, Liuget began working with the American Heart Assn. to raise funds and awareness for heart-disease research, an effort that will be reflected in the customized red-and-blue cleats he wears this weekend.
Liuget will be among the 55 or so Chargers and Rams — and about 800 players league-wide — sporting a panoply of colors and causes on their footwear as part of the NFL’s “My Cause, My Cleats” campaign, in which players showcase cleats representing the charities of their choosing.
The causes of the Rams, who play at Arizona, range from raising funds for clean-water wells in East Africa to charities that support veterans, and local foundations that provide educational and mentorship opportunities for underprivileged children. Several players chose health-related causes.
Among the Chargers’ causes are colon and pediatric cancer research, diabetes, lupus and autism awareness, human trafficking and musical education.
“It’s a really cool platform for everyone to get out and have a spotlight about different causes that guys are passionate about,” Rams offensive lineman Rob Havenstein said.
Havenstein will don shocking pink, size-15 cleats in support of Susan G. Komen and his mother, Cheryl, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when Havenstein was a young boy.
“She is a survivor,” Havenstein said. “I’m very happy about that, and she’s a very strong woman.”
Rams cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman will wear red cleats supporting the American Heart Assn. with his mother’s name, Maxine Robey-Coleman, inscribed on the side. Maxine died of a heart attack in 2010 when Robey-Coleman was a senior in high school.
“I always play in remembrance of her,” Robey-Coleman said. “But this Sunday, we get to put it on our cleats and actually get to show that and express that.”
Several Rams, including receivers Robert Woods and Sammy Watkins, will represent the American Cancer Society. Woods’ yellow cleats with colored ribbons will honor his sister, Olivia, who died from Sarcoma in 2008 when she was 17. Watkins will wear gray cleats with colored ribbons to support his grandparents and father who battled the illness.
“It’s just a special moment, to raise awareness for them and all the people that are suffering, little kids and older people,” Watkins said.
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates will wear purple cleats in support of the Lupus Foundation. His younger sister, Pamela, died three years ago, at age 22, after a three-year battle with lupus. She was in a coma for several weeks after suffering her second heart attack.
“That was a rough one,” Gates, 37, said. “She needed dialysis every day. She went in for a regular checkup one day and went into a coma for a month.”
Fellow tight end Hunter Henry will wear white cleats with a large red “X” in support of the End It Movement, which fights human trafficking.
“I heard about it when I was in high school,” Henry said. “I was like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe how many people are enslaved and just held.’ Imagine that being your daughter or brother or mother or father. It can happen to anybody. It just really hurt me.”
Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale, who plays the guitar, chose to showcase his individuality, designing cleats to replicate one of his heroes, Jimi Hendrix, and his guitar from the Monterey Pop Festival.
“I’ve always loved music,” he said.