GREEN BAY – Jamaal Williams tried to keep his emotions in check, but some excitement is too real to hide. His ear-to-ear grin refused to be concealed.
Walking into the Packers’ locker room for the first time last week, it dawned on the rookie fourth-round pick out of Brigham Young that this wasn’t a dream.
“I felt like a kid,” Williams said. “I still wanted to be professional about it, but I feel like a kid coming to the locker room and seeing all the Green Bay official stuff.”
This is Williams’ reality now. The 134th player to hear his name called two weeks ago, Williams began his NFL career during last week’s rookie orientation with the Packers.
The 6-foot, 213-pound running back took a different path to the NFL than most of his draft class. Out of the 30 backs who were selected, Williams and Coastal Carolina’s De’Angelo Henderson were the only redshirt seniors of the bunch.
Williams likely would’ve landed in the NFL a year ago if it hadn’t been for an honor code violation at BYU that forced him to sit out the 2015 season. He could’ve transferred at that point, but opted to return for his redshirt senior year instead.
Shortly after being drafted, Williams told Green Bay media on a conference call his decision was based on the loyalty he felt to the program, his only serious Division I offer coming out of Summit High School in Fontana, Calif.
Back in Provo, Utah, Williams’ quarterback, Taysom Hill, was excited for the running back’s eventual return. Members of the same 2012 BYU recruiting class, Hill and Williams developed a deep bond during their five years together.
“He’s a loyal guy. I think that’s a great characteristic,” said Hill, who also is in Green Bay this spring after signing with the Packers as a college free agent.
“He’s so loyal. He showed that when he came back to BYU. I don’t know who was talking to him or where he could’ve gone, but I know there would have been opportunities to go elsewhere. It certainly showed us, as his teammates, his loyalty to us and brought us closer together and made everyone want to be successful together that much more.”
Williams, who spent his off-year running hills in Scottsdale, Ariz., saved his best for last at BYU. He rushed for 1,375 yards and 12 touchdowns in 10 games this past season, with his 286 rushing yards against Toledo last September resetting the school’s single-game rushing record.
In his final game with the Cougars, Williams was responsible for 210 of BYU’s 316 total yards in a 24-21 win over Wyoming in the Poinsettia Bowl, pushing his school record for career rushing yards to 3,901.
“He deserved everything he achieved there,” Hill said.
The second act of Williams’ football career has taken him to Green Bay, where opportunity is endless. With the release of Christine Michael and Don Jackson last week, Ty Montgomery is the only returning running back on the roster besides fullbacks Aaron Ripkowski and Joe Kerridge, who combined for 35 carries last season.
The other 77 returning attempts belong to Montgomery, the converted receiver to whom Head Coach Mike McCarthy reiterated his commitment as the Packers’ starting running back after the draft concluded.
The rest is up to the room to decide. Along with Williams, the Packers drafted UTEP’s Aaron Jones in the fifth round and Utah State’s Devante Mays in the seventh to help replace departing veterans Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
“It gave us a great opportunity to come in and, all the running backs who are here, show out and do everything they can to get on the field,” Williams said. “It gives us more leeway, more opportunity to get on the field, but I still see it as an opportunity to prove myself to everybody and be able to make myself available.”
The education has already started for Williams, who began digesting the offense during the three-day orientation. When the rookies return next week, he looks forward to gleaning more insight from Montgomery and position coach Ben Sirmans.
Williams’ affinity for Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson is well-documented. He’s taken a lot of cues from both players in how he runs – “I like contact, but at the same time, I want to get out there and show my speed” – and trains during the offseason.
In the NFL, Williams is eager to chart his own course and show his child-like enthusiasm for football is here to stay, which will be obvious the first time he meets Aaron Rodgers.
“I’m still waiting to see him,” said Williams with a smile. “You see his locker when you walk in – ‘Rodgers’ – that’s our man, but at the same time you’re teammates with him, but right when I see him, (I’ll) let him know I’ve been watching him forever and been playing with you on Madden and all this.
“But at the same time, let him know I want to be a professional, a teammate, and let him know I’m here to contribute and do everything I can to help the team win.”