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Sun., Jul. 19, 2015 7:30 AM PDT
A closer look: Jeremy Williams
SAN DIEGO – A 7-year-old Jeremy Williams roamed a field in Baytown, Texas, amusing himself with a pickup football game.
He didn’t love the sport. Basketball claimed a monopoly in his thoughts and tugged at his passion.
But affinity is relative for competitive types immersed in the sports-centric culture of suburban Houston. If there’s a ball and a score, why not?
It didn’t take much to change his mind.
In what could pass as a Friday Night Lights scene, a youth football coach wandered past the field, spotted Williams, tabbed him as a potential talent and convinced him to come to practice.
“I’ve just been doing it ever since,” Williams said. “It’s a big football state. Wherever you go, every school’s going to push for (their) football team to be great. It started (when I was) really young and that’s just how it’s been, man. Football is everything.”
At 6-foot, 203 pounds, Williams doesn’t have the prototypical size of an NFL receiver. Both Chargers starters last season were five inches taller.
He also missed time because of a knee injury in college and didn’t produce eye-popping numbers playing for Tulane in Conference USA until his senior year.
Still, after catching 84 passes for 1,113 yards during his final season, adding 38 carries for 167 yards and a successful year returning kickoffs, including an 88-yard kickoff return for a touchdown Nov. 7 against UTEP, many analysts figured him for a mid-round draft choice.
Williams played in the Senior Bowl and trained with Heisman candidates Colt McCoy and Toby Gerhart in Irvine, Calif., during the weeks before the draft.
But as Williams watched the proceedings from an air mattress at his grandmother’s house in Baytown, his name never was announced.
The undrafted rookie now thinks he may have to prove himself as a valuable special teams player.
He petitioned the Green Wave coaching staff to let him return kicks after his sophomore season and found a knack that accelerated last season.
“I (returned kicks) pretty well in college and I feel like I can help out here,” said Williams, who has taken reps behind Darren Sproles this offseason. “I’ll do the best I can wherever they need me. (I’ve practiced) a little jammer work and gunner work. I’m here to do whatever I can.”
He caught more passes from Philip Rivers during the first week of OTAs and Mini Camp than an undrafted rookie would expect, mostly because of injuries and absences by other receivers on the roster, a popular storyline at the voluntary practice sessions.
Head Coach Norv Turner has been careful not to single out one of the seven rookie receivers but likes the collection of talent his scouts have assembled.
“I really do believe that we’ll come out with a couple guys that will have careers in this league,” Turner said.
Rivers, similarly cautious about analysis this many weeks before training camp, did throw to Williams a handful of times.
“He’s got a confidence and calmness about him that stands out,” Rivers said. “(But) it’s still early. (We’re just) wearing a helmet out there.”
Williams, meanwhile, is doing everything he can with the unexpected reps to earn the quarterback’s respect. He already is learning that NFL cornerbacks don’t fall for tricks and that he must become more precise with his routes. He hopes to combat his lack of size with consistent hands and a well-rounded game.
“(Timing) is everything with these plays,” Williams said. “They talk a lot about trust. Philip says, ‘I’m trusting you to be where you’re supposed to be.’ Basically what he’s doing is backing up. He’s timing that route.
“Maybe he won’t throw it (to you), but he’s expecting you to be there, and if you’re not, he’s going to lose trust in you. You’ve got to know your plays, you’ve got to be on time, and you’ve just got to do it every time.”