GREEN BAY – A mother getting more emotional than the son on draft day is nothing unusual.
But the story behind it with Dexter Williams is a special one.
The Notre Dame running back, whom the Packers chose with the second of their sixth-round picks on Saturday, at No. 194 overall, could never be sure his mother was going to witness this big day.
Cheryl Williams was diagnosed with an incurable neuro-muscular disorder called myasthenia gravis in 2006. Then she was tagged with a terminal illness, pulmonary arterial hypertension, last year and given a three-to-five-year window.
To say she’s persevered does not do it justice, but her emotional reaction to her son getting a phone call from the Green Bay Packers was shown on national TV for all to observe.
“This is something she’s always wanted to have a chance to see,” Williams said. “To be with her at this moment was so special.
“It means a lot just to know God is still with us and with our family, protecting us and allowing her to be here. It’s a moment we’ll never forget.”
Williams has overcome his own issues, though they fall into a different category. Calling them “mistakes,” Williams has a marijuana arrest on his record from 2016 and a four-game suspension to start last season that was for undisclosed reasons.
Take a look at Packers RB Dexter Williams during his college career.
During the suspension, his mother moved from Florida up to South Bend, Ind., to be with him and see his games when he returned to the field.
All he did then was go out and rush for 995 yards and 12 touchdowns in just nine games in his lone year as Notre Dame’s No. 1 back, averaging 6.3 yards on 158 carries. The first time he touched the ball after missing four games, he ran for a 45-yard TD against Stanford.
“That was the time to figure out who Dexter Williams is and correct all my mistakes while I can,” he said of last fall’s suspension, imposed by the school. “That was a moment in my life it was time to show maturity.”
Williams is a big-play back, with a 97-yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech last year the second longest in the Notre Dame record books. In 2017, he averaged an eye-popping 9.2 yards per carry in a part-time role (39 rushes, 360 yards, four TDs).
He clocked a modest 4.57-second time in the 40-yard dash at the combine, but Williams says he has breakaway capability because “it’s different when people are chasing you.”
He sees himself as a “perfect” fit for new Head Coach Matt LaFleur’s outside-zone running scheme, and he’ll arrive in Green Bay with a chance right away to be the offense’s No. 3 back behind third-year pros Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
“To get in space, be able to make plays … I can see myself in the offense already and I can’t wait to get started,” he said.
Williams plans to bring his mother with him to Green Bay, too, calling her his guardian angel. He wants to share as much time with his mother as he can, and let her see him doing what he loves.
Some of his transition will be eased by the fact that two Fighting Irish offensive teammates, receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and quarterback DeShone Kizer, will be in the same locker room with him again. He considers St. Brown one of his best friends and was planning to call both teammates shortly after finishing his media obligations.
The ups and downs at Notre Dame behind him, Williams is only looking forward to a fresh start in Green Bay.
“I really had to live up to those consequences. I don’t plan on looking back at all, turning back at all, now that I have this opportunity to keep going,” he said.
“It’s been a long, stressful day, and I was just waiting for that team to take a chance and give me an opportunity … and I’m thankful for it.”