Andre Williams can’t keep the smile from spreading across his face when thinking about the start of his football career.
Before he was drafted by the New York Giants, led the nation in rushing at Boston College or dominated under the ‘Friday Night Lights’ of two high schools, there was a different field Williams stepped on.
There would be a phone call to friends — Freddy, Dorsey and Alex — before exiting the back door and stepping onto the grass of his yard. Someone would bring a football and hand it to another. Then? Well, things got interesting.
“Kill the man with the ball,” Williams said, laughing.
And little Andre always won.
Since his days running through friends under the sun in Kennesaw, Georgia, Williams has molded himself into the Giants’ own big bruising Andre the Giant. But during the early portions of his career, Williams resembled very little of the 5-11, 230-pound back the Giants selected in the fourth round this year’s draft.
Williams was always one of the ‘taller’ kids growing up, but bulky he was not. Williams described himself as ‘lanky,’ mentioning the long arms that often made him look awkward. But in the backyard, his weight meant nothing. Quickly, Williams found a way to make sure he’d never let a friend beat him in the backyard antics.
“I used to get my momentum up to the point where it would be really hard to stop me,” Williams said. “I used to explode on contact. That was really the most fun for me. I was trying to build that and shape it into something that I could use to my advantage.”
Williams transitioned from the backyard to the backfield in sixth grade, but his career nearly ended before it began. At two years old, a car struck the New York native. Williams’ mother, Lancelene, forbid her son to play anymore, fearing contact sports “weren’t really for” Williams.
Williams’ response? His little brother.
“She was letting my little brother play flag football,” Williams said. “She just kinda thought, ‘I can’t let him play football and not his older brother.’ So I started playing again.”
While Williams displayed potential on the field, he never truly took the sport seriously, partially because of lack of team success. Sure, he was scoring, but the team wasn’t winning.
Then he began school at Harrison High School, played with better players and coaches introduced him to the weight room. Suddenly, everything changed.
“Those lifting programs, it was like a college program,” Williams said. “I saw football and what it was as a team sport and how raw talent could develop into something that could contribute to something bigger. It started becoming a lot of fun.”
Williams played two seasons at Harrison before moving to Allentown, Pennsylvania. As a junior, he committed to Boston College. BC gave Williams both the chance to play early, and the ability to stay close to his mom.
Over the ensuing four years, Williams saw his production increase each season. As a senior, the 22-year-old rushed for 2,177 yards and 18 touchdowns. Williams was a Heisman Trophy finalist and holds the school record for rushing attempts, yards and touchdowns.
Despite all his accolades, scouts questioned Williams’ ability to play at the next level. Sure, he could run the ball. But could he catch? In four years, Williams recorded just eight receptions. None his senior year.
Williams says the lack of catches isn’t for lack of ability, but rather opportunity. At Boston College, running backs weren’t required to catch the ball. Now, he’s looking to make up for lost time.
“I’ve been catching a lot of balls in the offseason,” Williams said. “Just in terms of being able to build confidence in my ability to catch the ball and what steps are necessary in order to catch the ball.”
During training camp, Williams has flashed multiple times. He’s shown an extra gear and ability to move with the ball in his hands. But also, that that time spent catching is paying off.
In the Giants’ first practice, Williams made an impressive grab out of the backfield. He’s turning heads. And the right ones, too.
“He’s become more than a one-dimensional back,” Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin said. “He certainly wasn’t used that way at BC, but he’s demonstrated the ability to do that. He also hits that button and he can go.”
For Williams, he’s just looking to improve. Be that as a pass blocker, receiver or runner. As for motivation, he’s his own.
“I actually made it to the professional level. Professional football,” Williams said. “Now I have an opportunity to explore what that means for me. What am I going to develop into? What am I going to look like against the best of the best?
“That’s my motivation. To continue to sharpen myself and be the best back that he can be.”