Ticat steps into starring role

Tiger-Cats receiver Chris Williams is congratulated by teammate Matt Carter after scoring a...

Tiger-Cats receiver Chris Williams is congratulated by teammate Matt Carter after scoring a touchdown against the Lions Friday night in Vancouver. (ANDY CLARK/Reuters)

TERRY KOSHAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:21 PM ET

HAMILTON - Bob O’Billovich wasn’t going to let Chris Williams slip away twice.

Though Williams has just started to make an impact in the Canadian Football League, O’Billovich, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ general manager, has had an idea for several years that Williams could be someone who helps decide the outcome of football games.

O’Billovich began following the receiver while the latter was at New Mexico State, and in Williams’ senior year, O’Billovich put him on the Tiger-Cats’ negotiation list.

Williams was not drafted in the National Football League, but signed with the Miami Dolphins in the spring of 2009. At that point, O’Billovich removed Williams from the Ticats negotiation list.

“You go through periods where the list can change day to day, week to week,” O’Billovich said on Tuesday at Ivor Wynne Stadium as the Tiger-Cats finished practice. “We took him off until we saw what would happen in the NFL.”

The Saskatchewan Roughriders liked Williams too. They slapped him on their list when he came off Hamilton’s. But O’Billovich was not deterred, and when he traded receiver Prechae Rodriguez to the Roughriders in February of 2010, he requested that Williams’ rights be involved in the swap. Williams’ NFL hopes had been mostly dashed when he suffered a hand injury with the Dolphins, though he later joined the Cleveland Browns for a brief stop.

“He was always in our mind because of his versatility as a punt returner/receiver,” O’Billovich said. “We thought he would be a good CFL fit, because he is a speedy little guy who is shifty, and without question, he is the fastest guy on our team.”

Williams spent a few weeks on the Ticats’ practice roster toward the end of last season, and fast-forwarding a bit, now leads the Tiger-Cats in receiving yards (250 on 16 catches) and has three touchdowns.

“It was huge for me to be here a bit last year, just learning the subtleties of the game, the dimensions of the field, everything,” Williams, who had 189 yards versus the B.C. Lions last week, said. “Even being on the practice roster, that helped. (The Ticats) gave me every opportunity to be better, to do my job, to work on it.”

That Williams, who is listed at 5-foot-9 and a tiny 155 pounds, making him the lightest player in the CFL, is doing what most small men can’t do is not new to those who have known him since he was a kid. In high school, Williams was an accomplished basketball player and twice won slam-dunk contests. So good was he at running the 400-metre event in track that he was offered a scholarship to UCLA. A scholarship offer for basketball and football came from Ohio University, but Williams wanted to stay closer to his home town of Rio Rancho, N.M., so he decided to attend New Mexico State.

Williams didn’t play in the Tiger-Cats’ season opener, but was inserted in Week 2 after Aaron Kelly got hurt. Williams stayed on the 42-man roster in Week 3 when Maurice Mann suffered a gash on his foot, and now, Williams legitimately has solidified his spot on offence.

“There definitely has been a learning curve, but the faster you can get it going, the better,” Williams, 23, said. “A lot of what I can do is natural, but a lot of it is doing something over and over again, getting comfortable.

“I had to learn to adjust some things (from running track), but I have a little bit longer stride than most normal small guys. I try to use that to my advantage, maybe show (opponents) things they are not used to seeing.

“I’m just trying to do my job the best I can. When they asked the next guy to step up, when Mo got hurt, it just happened to be me.”

terry.koshan@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/koshtorontosun


Videos

Photos