It is always a very exclusive group that is invited to Los Angeles for the NFLPA’s Rookie Premiere. This year, two of the San Francisco 49ers rookies were honored by the invitation: Iowa quarterback C.J. Beathard and Utah running back Joe Williams. It’s a dream come true for Williams, who says that it’s just starting to feel real.
I still gotta pinch myself. I still think every day, wow I’m in the NFL. It’s sunk in a little bit, but it hasn’t. I haven’t fully grasped it yet, but close.
At the premiere, rookies start to build their brands, network and prepare not only for life as a professional athlete but for life after football. One of the most powerful moments for Williams was when the veterans spoke to the group — Michael Vick, Willie McGinest and Steve Smith Sr., who delivered his favorite quote: “Be remembered not noticed.”
Being a Broncos fan before being drafted by the 49ers made meeting general manager John Lynch very exciting for Williams. Even just shaking his hand was a surreal experience after playing video games with his likeness. He appreciated their 20 minute conversation prior to being selected on day three of the draft knowing that the GM needed to hear the sincerity from his own mouth about his commitment to the game. Williams knows that stepping away from football for a month when at Utah raised questions about his passion for the game, but he believes that his behavior since his return has, and will, do more than his words ever could.
Williams is ready to turn the page and move forward from the conflicts in his past, both at Utah and Connecticut, to his role with the 49ers, and can’t wait to get into preseason action. Although Williams thinks Kyle Shanahan’s offense is quite wordy, he has the help of running backs coach Bobby Turner who has taken him under his wing to assist with his transition. Memorization is important and not just of his own tasks, but of the entire offense. He explained his priorities:
It would have to just be the technique, predominately my position but if I need to line up at wide receiver or just learning the schemes of the O-line, their blocking patterns, reading defensive fronts, you want to be able to understand each and every concept of the play so that if things do go awry during the play you’re already set up and you’re not just running off instincts.
Unlike many rookies entering the league, Williams is married and has been for six months. Balancing his personal and professional life isn’t a concern for the rookie as he has found that after graduating from school, he has plenty of time to devote to football. Veteran Tim Hightower has already offered the advice of being patient both in his play as well as in his career telling the rookie that once he gets his opportunity, to run with it and the reps will come. William’s knows what’s ahead of him, knowing he's in Santa Clara to “take a grown man’s job.” It may even be just a little foreshadowing by the rookie.
The job Williams wants to take currently belongs to Carlos Hyde. Fittingly, Hyde has been told, like Williams, to be more patient in his running. Williams explained that unlike in college where the holes are two gaps wide, the holes in the NFL change and shift as soon as play starts. He needs to understand the ebbs and flows of the game and know that “not every carry is going to be a home run.” Part of what Williams wants to become is modeled after his favorite players. He described the qualities that they brought to the game:
His tenacity, he’s a fighter he never wants to get taken down on one guy. He’s got speed he’s got hands in the back field, he blocks he does everything for his team. Watching that when I was younger when he was ay Oklahoma and even with the Vikings. He embodied every characteristic of a running back that I want to be when I become him in the NFL.
You could attach some probes on him and use him as a human joystick. Just the way he was able to move, his cuts, his jukes, it’s like he had hips of jello. Just because he was able to just juke here and then see a defender from his blind spot, just feel him, just his instincts were so on key and that’s big with a running back. He was definitely one of the all time greats that I always loved to watch when I was growing up along with AP.
Williams has been playing football since he was 6 years old, when he started with the Bethlehem Raiders. His first memory of football was before his very first game. Williams’ parents found the future football star in his bedroom wearing his uniform at 5:00 a.m. on his first game day. He still wakes up early with butterflies on game day “like a little kid.” Fast forward to his college career and his favorite memory was his second game back after his hiatus, at the Rose Bowl. He ran over the UCLA defense for 332 yards and four touchdowns.
Williams plans on making more of those memories with the 49ers but for now he’s adjusting to the fact that he will be in the huddle with people he has only seen on TV and played with on Madden. The magnitude hit him even harder after a visit to the 49ers Museum. Seeing the five Lombardi trophies had a powerful impact on the rookie. Williams is humbled, yet still unfazed. He knows Santa Clara is where he is meant to be and it will only take a few deep breaths before he shows everyone else that this is where he belongs.