Rey Williams: Nerves of steel

Tiger-Cats linebacker Renauld Williams closes in on Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce last...

Tiger-Cats linebacker Renauld Williams closes in on Blue Bombers quarterback Buck Pierce last Friday at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Winnipeg, Man. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

FRANK ZICARELLI, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:26 PM ET

HAMILTON - In the back of Renauld Williams’ mind, there was always something appealing about the colours black and gold, an affection that would grow stronger with time and ultimately pave his way to The Hammer.

When he tried to latch on to the NFL, Williams auditioned for San Francisco, a team that signed Williams as an undrafted rookie in 2004, Miami, Cleveland and the New York Jets.

When football’s politics weren’t depriving Williams a legitimate chance at the bright lights, other issues would surface. It wasn’t until he tried out with the Pittsburgh Steelers when Williams began to appreciate organizational commitment and loyalty.

With no guarantees and no signing bonus, which in many ways decides a player’s fate, Williams gave it his best shot in the land of the Terrible Towel, where defence has identified the Steelers franchise as much as Franco Harris’ Immaculate Reception.

“Of all the NFL camps I attended, that was by far my best camp,’’ Williams, who is simply known as Rey, said. “I wouldn’t take anything back, even knowing it’s always a risk going back to the NFL without a signing bonus. It was a good experience.”

Williams took advantage of an option clause in his CFL contract to chase his gridiron dream with the Steelers. In Pittsburgh, he began to be trained under co-ordinator Dick LeBeau. “I can’t put into words what coach LeBeau meant,’’ Williams said.

In Pittsburgh, Williams played the same position as James Farrior, making the calls at middle linebacker, making sure everyone was lined up properly and calling out the defence.

It was always a long shot for Williams to make the team, but he left such an impression that not a single day would pass without someone informing Williams of his abilities.

An injury to his fibula and tibia, a setback football players refer to as a fib/tib, would sideline Williams late in camp, setting of a series of events that basically meant Williams spent the entire year out of football.

“I gave myself a chance,’’ he said. “I led the team on the coaching stats in tackles.”

There came a promise from the Steelers that Williams would be asked first to return in the event of an injury, but Williams never could fully recover from his own injury.

There was a chance to return to Saskatchewan, which had his rights, but his recovery time shelved those plans.And then came a moment of truth for Williams, who was offered a camp invitation by the Green Bay Packers.

As much as wanted another chance at the NFL, Williams realized how Father Time was beginning to creep up. There were CFL suitors — and Hamilton won out.

“I just think I was destined for the black and gold,’’ he said. “Hamilton reminds me of Pittsburgh because the people are good, the organization is great and it’s a place and a team I enjoy.

“At 30 years old, you never know when this thing is over and I didn’t want to take that chance. I wanted to play football and I felt the best decision for me was to play here.”

Williams, who owns a home in Atlanta, is from New York, which allows family to visit Hamilton.

In Saskatchewan, he played alongside Stevie Baggs. Joe Womack, who serves as Hamilton’s assistant GM and director of player personnel, worked in Saskatchewan’s front office during Williams’ time in Green and White.

“The Steelers were up front and honest with me,’’ Williams. “The people loved playing in that city and the situation here reminds me of that experience.”

Corey Chamblin is 40 years LeBeau’s junior, his resume nowhere near as accomplished, but there’s one common trait Williams admires in each.

“Aggressive,’’ Williams said. “Nobody wants to play vanilla and just sit there. You want to move around and you want to blitz.”

Inside, outside, Williams can line up in any defensive alignment. At Hofstra, he played defensive end. In high school, he was a running back whose athleticism caught the eye of Penn State.

No one plays as hard as Williams and no one morphs from good guy to all-out beast come game day like him.

“I always felt as a player that anywhere I played, I could play any position,’’ he said.

For now, he’s one of the defensive anchors in Hamilton.


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