Williams Keeps Focused On Football


Like many of his NFL Europe counterparts, Travis Williams has spent recent nights unwinding from training camp practices in Florida by watching news of the war in Iraq.

Signed to the Packers' offseason roster in January, Williams is one of 14 Green Bay players allocated to the NFL's developmental league, but he's the only one who served two years of active duty for the U.S. Navy, including time in the Persian Gulf.

"I've been keeping up with everything that I can from the Navy perspective," Williams said Friday. "The war in Iraq affects me personally because I know a lot of guys over there."

Previously the electronic warfare officer on the USS Boxer, Williams currently belongs to a selected reserves unit based out of San Diego, a "lower priority unit" that Williams says has little chance of being called into active duty.

Not that he can forget about the possibility entirely.

"It's in the back of my mind," he said. "It's not something I worry about, but I try to keep in the loop, so if I did get the call I could get up to speed and into action quickly."

For now Williams serves as resident war expert at the Amsterdam Admirals' training camp, doing his best to answer teammates' questions about the war effort, while he chases down his football dreams.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., Williams originally signed with the Packers as an undrafted free agent in 2000. From there he spent portions of mini-camps and training camps with the team as his military leave schedule allowed.

But as of September 2002, Williams completed active duty and entered what is a two-year window in which he can attempt full-time to make an NFL roster or practice squad. If at the end of that span Williams hasn't found a team, he'll report back to active duty.

"If I haven't made a team by then, it will be time to cut my losses anyway," Williams assessed last April.

Set to depart for Amsterdam next week, with games beginning the first weekend of April, Williams said that the NFLE experience already has pointed him in the right direction.

"It's been pretty much perfect," Williams said. "Before, whenever I came out of the military to go to Packers camp, I needed to work on things. And there's no NFL team that has the time or the patience for that. They have other things they have to work on and they can't wait for you to catch up.

"Right now I'm working on a lot of individual things, instead of memorizing all sorts of plays. I'm feeling back in the groove, back in my old playing form.

"All the things that I know in my mind that I can do, I'm starting to do them on the field again."

At 6-foot-3, 203-pounds, Williams has size to go with his breakaway speed. As a senior at Annapolis, he made 20 catches for 248 yards, a 12.4-yards per catch average.

But active duty called before his professional football career could begin. Williams did his best to stay in football shape, sometimes running pass routes on the deck of the Boxer, but always felt rusty coming into Packers camps.

Last summer Williams' training camp stint was cut short after he tore his right calf muscle. What he originally expected to be a two-week rehab, stretched into three months.

He feels better now, believes that he's matched his collegiate form and will only improve with playing time.

Eventually he hopes that football will become as routine as the Navy.

Recalling a post-9/11 scare in which the Boxer was approached by a smaller vessel, similar to the one that was detonated next to the USS Cole, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39 in 2000, Williams said fear and doubt were never obstacles in the military.

"While on active duty, I was never sacred during any encounter," he explained. "Afterwards, that's when it sinks into your mind and you realize: 'Wow, that was close.'

"The Navy does a good job preparing you for anything you might face. It can be a grind a lot of times and feel redundant, but when something happens your reactions take over and you get to work before you think about it.

"It's a lot like football. You can run a post route a thousand times, and there are a few different ways to do it, but after a while you get to the point where it's automatic."

For Williams, football isn't that automatic yet, but he believes it soon will be. In the meantime he's enjoying the mere pursuit of an NFL career and is taking nothing for granted.

Unsure of the Boxer's exact location, Williams is confident that she is currently in the Middle East, which makes the football field seem even more like a playground.

"I'm living a great life here right now, obviously," Williams said. "Football is a business, I'm going at it intensely, but I'm having a great time.

"I'll come home after a good practice or a good scrimmage, and I'll think: 'That was awesome.' More and more, I come back at night and say: 'I can do this. I can really do this.'"

Having already served in the Navy, Williams has battles of his own yet to face.

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