NASHVILLE – Kevin Rader was a freshman in high school when he was first diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
It was a shock to the system, leaving him with many unknowns.
Reality hit when doctors checked his blood sugar, and it was 786.
"I lost 30 pounds in 3 or 4 days," said the Titans tight end. "No one in my family ever had diabetes, so no one knew what was wrong with me. It wasn't easy at first – it was definitely a learning curve for me. But you adjust. And now, I think I manage it great."
Rader, in his first season with the Titans after playing the previous two seasons with the Steelers, now wants to do his part to help bring awareness to the disease while encouraging others.
As part of the NFL's 'My Cause, My Cleats' campaign, Rader plans to wear cleats that bring attention to JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation). The words "Improving Lives Curing Type 1 Diabetes" also decorate the colorful shoes.
The annual 'My Cause, My Cleats' initiative empowers players to showcase their commitment to the causes they support through creative artwork and custom designs on their game cleats.
Rader is among a group of roughly 16-18 Titans who plan to take part in the initiative, starting on Sunday against the Eagles and then again next week against the Jaguars.
Rader said he plans to auction off the cleats at some point to raise money for JDRF.
"I want to bring awareness," said Rader, who has played in eight of the team's 11 games this season after being promoted from the practice squad in September. "The biggest thing (I tell young people) is: "Don't take no for an answer. Some people think when you get diabetes you can't do things, but it's like any other adversity, you can overcome it."
Type 1 diabetes is often diagnosed in children and young adults but can occur at any age. Since the immune system destroys the body's ability to produce insulin, those with the disease are required to take shots or use an insulin pump, in addition to regularly monitoring their blood sugar.
Rader, who is 27, regularly takes shots to keep his blood sugars in check.
Rader, who has worked at tight end, fullback and on special teams this season, said he takes six to eight injections of insulin a day, depending on his activity. He wears a FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring system on his upper leg that lets him know his blood sugars, and it helps him deal with the highs and lows.
Rader said he also leans on Titans nutrition coordinator Lauren Silvio to help him with his blood sugars, and his diet is important, he said.
"In games (my blood sugar) goes high because the adrenalin spikes the sugars," Rader said. "(As for my diet), it was a learning curve at first, but once you understand carbs, and what foods make you spike quick vs. late, like pasta versus a normal chicken dish, things like that, it's pretty easy to manage."
Rader said teammates are sometimes curious when they see him checking his blood sugars or taking injections.
"Usually when someone finds out they are shocked I'm a diabetic," he said. "And then I tell them, and they're like, What? And they'll see the sensor on my leg and it will start a conversation."
Rader, a Pittsburgh native who played in college at Youngstown State and initially signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent back in 2018, is happy to spread the word about how he deals with diabetes because it allows him to encourage others.
When Rader was with the Steelers, he talked with kids through JDRF about his personal experiences with diabetes.
"I was a walk-on in college, and I had to overcome that," Rader said at the time. "Same thing, undrafted going into the NFL. Really diabetes, as long as you manage it, take ownership and make it part of your lifestyle, it won't hold you back at all."