Several years later, the smallest, random memories can bring a smile to L.J. Collier's face.
The Seahawks rookie defensive end lost his mother, Ruby, to pancreatic cancer when he was a freshman at TCU, and while he and his three older sisters miss their mother dearly, remembering her still makes Collier's face light up.
The way she liked to put ice in her milk, the way she doted on her grandchildren, and yes, the little dance she did when she had to go to the bathroom after sitting through a long church service.
"Me and my sister, Missy, were laughing about it the other day," Collier said, chuckling at the memory. "We always messed with her about that. She was such an amazing person. She was my biggest fan. She was really laid back, she loved her grandkids, she loved her kids, and she was really down to earth. She was a very giving and caring person."
Even as she was battling cancer, Ruby was still playing the role of supportive mother, making sure her son was handling the transition to college.
"I'm talking to her about my play, and meanwhile she's sick, she's going through all of this, and she's trying to help me out," he said. "That shows her character, what kind of person she was. She was my world."
Collier plays for his mom every time he takes the field, but this month that will be particularly poignant as the NFL holds its annual Crucial Catch initiative, which promotes cancer awareness and early detection. Sunday's game against the Ravens is the team's annual Crucial Catch game, and players will wear wristbands and shoelaces in various colors to represent various cancers that can be detected early. During the week leading up to the game, the Seahawks hosted a group of cancer survivors at a practice who will also attend Sunday's game. Collier hopes other families can avoid the pain his family went through by catching cancer early.
"I hope people are aware of this," he said. "I hope they are putting more money into finding a cure so people don't have to go through what I went through watching someone they love go through that, and I also hope people are doing what they need to do to catch it early."
Collier's rookie season with the Seahawks hasn't gone exactly how he would have hoped. An ankle injury early in training camp caused him to miss a lot of valuable time, including all four preseason games, and as a result he was behind in his preparation when the season opened, causing him to be inactive for three of Seattle's six games. But if watching his mom battle cancer taught Collier anything, it's that there are much more serious fights than that of a rookie defensive end trying to earn more playing time.
"Nothing hurts worse than losing a parent," he said. "No matter what you're going through, no practices are harder than that, no running, no lifting that's as hard as going through losing a parent."
So Collier will continue to work to live up to his first-round pick status, not just for his own future, but to make his mother proud.
"She missed so much, things I'm doing now," he said. "She's why I play the game. I know she's with me every game. I pray to her every game and I know she's looking over me. I tell myself every time I get out there, I've got to make a statement today. She's watching, so I've got to make plays today."
A group of Crucial Catch patients and doctors from Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan visited Seahawks practice on Thursday at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center.