At any moment in James Williams’ hectic life these days, a ring on his cellphone might mean (a) an NFL team is extending a midsummer invitation to a training camp or (b) Williams’ fiancee is ready to give birth.
Nonetheless, he’s carving out time this week for a youth football camp in Lewiston, which has been his adoptive home since the final phase of his productive career as a Washington State running back.
“If you mess up, mess up at full-speed,” Williams told his perhaps 8- to 17-year-old campers during an agility drill Thursday evening at Vollmer Bowl. “They don’t want you messing up and hangin’ your head.”
In the next breath, though, he pointed out the need to listen attentively and follow instructions. Football is, by turns, less complicated and more complicated than it looks.
Williams, who led the country in reception yards by a running back in each of the past two seasons, knew he was taking a risk by forfeiting his senior season at WSU and turning pro. He knew scouts viewed him as a specialty back who’s probably not ready to be an every-down locomotive.
So he wasn’t entirely stunned to go unselected in the NFL draft in April, instead signing a free-agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. More surprising was that the Chiefs, whose offense theoretically suited his pass-catching skills, decided quickly it had a glut of tailbacks and placed Williams on waivers June 13.
“I kind of ran into a position where there was a whole bunch of vets in the backfield, and they can only take five or six running backs to camp,” Williams said. “So I kind of got the short end of the stick. That happens. They call the NFL the Not For Long. They’re not lying. In the month and a half I was there, there were people leaving left and right. They’d cut somebody, and add somebody in there new the very next day.”
That flux now works in his favor. As NFL training camps get started in the next couple of weeks, injuries and other issues could create further opportunities for him. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Arizona Cardinals seem the most likely to dial him.
Williams has another big reason to keep his phone nearby. His fiancee, former Lewiston High and Lewis-Clark State tennis standout Rye Hewett, is pregnant with their first child, a boy, who will join a family that includes Hewett’s young daughter, Breezy. The baby will be named Rush, though so far he’s biding his time. Hewett’s due date was June 26, and labor induction is being considered.
“It’s very stressful,” said Hewett, who cheerily greeted camp pupils at the Vollmer Bowl gate and later walked laps around the oval track.
The James “Boobie” Williams Youth Football Camp made its debut two weeks ago in the athlete’s hometown of Burbank, Calif., and opened in Lewiston on Thursday. Both camps were organized on the fly, with little chance for promotion. It wasn’t until this week that Williams learned Vollmer Bowl would be at his disposal, and only 13 pupils were on hand for this first two-hour session.
But that gave Williams more opportunity for individual instruction, which is important to him. Growing up in straitened circumstances – his family was homeless for a stretch – he couldn’t afford elite Los Angeles-area camps with big-name instructors. And he wasn’t always sure his mistakes were being pointed out in the camps he did attend. But he nonetheless poured himself into the process of getting better.
“My goal is to show everybody a condensed version of everything I was learning when I was at Washington State and when I was with the Chiefs,” Williams said. “People in Lewiston or Pullman or whatever, they’ve got to fly to Florida or Seattle to get this (type of instruction), and it costs two or three grand. I want to pay attention to detail, make sure everybody is doing everything right, because I want everybody to leave my camp feeling confident.”
With hip-hop blaring from a portable speaker that Williams controlled with his phone, the running back devoted the first 90 minutes to conditioning and agility drills whose sophistication, despite simple props, may have gone beyond what his campers were expecting.
“I think it kinda shows how more intense college can be,” said one of the pupils, Lewiston High running back Michael Bramlett. “Everybody was already commenting how much worse than high school that the workouts were. And we’re only halfway done.”
The second and final two-hour sessions begins at 5 p.m. today, and the fee for those who didn’t attend Day 1 is $50.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Bramlett said of Williams. “I think he probably had to go through all these drills, and fought really had to get where he’s going.”
Since meeting Hewett, a special-education teacher, Williams has come to realize his own teaching and coaching skills. He would like to make his camps a yearly thing. But for understandable reasons, the Lewiston camp will probably his final one this year.
“My time is limited,” he said. “I don’t want to be in the middle of a camp and have my fiancee call me and say, ‘It’s happening!’”