Rookie WR Harry Williams Jr. was having an excellent camp before he injured his knee in practice. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
It’s what late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents fear most: injury. That nightmare became reality on Aug. 15 when rookie WR Harry Williams, Jr. suffered a sprained right knee that will keep him out 2-5 weeks.
On the play, Williams, Jr. dove and caught the ball but was sandwiched between CB David Barrett and FS Erik Coleman when he landed.
It’s a devastating blow to Williams, Jr. who was having a fantastic camp earning the praise of head coach Herman Edwards as well as the nickname, Willie Mays Hayes after the “Major League” movie character portrayed by Wesley Snipes.
“It’s nice that the head coach has something good to say about you,” Williams, Jr. said. “You can’t take that the wrong way though. You still have to work hard and it doesn’t mean anything until you get in the game. I have to do something in the game first before I can start talking like that.”
The release of WR Jonathan Carter, who had returned to practice this week after battling a hamstring injury most of training camp, has to be an encouraging sign to Williams.
“It opens the door for somebody, whether it’s Chas (Gessner), or whether it’s Harry Williams, but he has to obviously get well,” Edwards said. “We’re looking for a fifth guy. And there are some guys here who will obviously have a chance to do that.”
While there’s the possibility that the Jets will bring in a veteran wide receiver emerges if none of the young players emerge, Edwards hopes don’t have to do that. “That’s what you look for in the fifth guy is that he’s here and that he understands the offense,” Edwards said.
In the first preseason game against the Lions, Williams, Jr. caught two passes for 13 yards and was thrown to six times overall. WR Chas Gessner, who along with Williams, Jr. appeared to be the two front runners for the fifth wide receiver spot, dropped three passes in the game.
Williams, Jr., who turned 23 on August 10, showed the ability to get deep consistently using his speed as well as quickness off the line of scrimmage.
In the joint practice against the Giants on August 6, Jets head coach Herman Edwards wanted to test Williams, Jr.
“I asked Mike (Heimerdinger), ‘look, I don’t care if it’s in the second practice, just throw it to 18. I want to see 18 catch the ball and run with it and see if he can do what he’s done in practice.’ He did just that; he caught it and ran with it a couple of times,” Edwards said.
Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger has rode Williams, Jr. hard throughout training camp.
“My offensive coordinator in college was just like Dinger,” Williams said. “I’m used to the fussing and I like the fussing. I like everything like that. I like dinger; I like someone being in my face. I don’t like somebody to just sit back and not tell me what I’m doing wrong, so when he gets in my face, I kind of like it. It keeps me from going forward and keeps me on my toes.”
On the weekend of the 2005 NFL draft, Harry Williams, Jr. had a large gathering at his mother’s house in Birmingham, Alabama. The wide receiver out of Division II Tuskegee University watched with his friends and family but as the rounds went on and on and Williams, Jr. did not hear his name called, he decided to take a walk.
“I thought I was going to go higher and was a little upset because there were about 20 people (at my house),” Williams, Jr. said. “I went to my old little league field because I couldn’t take the pressure. I got a call from Pep Hamilton (Jets wide receivers coach) who asked how I was and I said ‘alright.’ then Houston called and buffalo so I figured I got to get back to the house because I would be drafted soon so I ran back home.”
Williams, Jr. displayed the speed that made him a standout in college as a football star as well as on the track team by running the mile home. Shortly after he got home, Hamilton called again, this time saying, “Welcome to the Jets,” and with the 240th pick of the draft the Jets selected him in the seventh round.
After red-shirting at Tuskegee in 2000, Williams, Jr. played in seven games in 2001, catching nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns. In February of 2002, Williams, Jr. had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee which limited him to four games in the fall of 2002, as he made four catches for 56 yards.
Williams, Jr. came back strong his junior season, starting every game and finishing second on the team with 27 receptions for 626 yards and three scores.
With scouts watching his final season, Williams, Jr. did not disappoint, ranking second on the team with 43 catches for 678 yards and three touchdowns. He also returned seven kickoffs for 134 yards.
“I always feel that if you play football, you can play football. It doesn’t matter if it’s division II, division I or whatever,” Williams said.
Besides starring on the football field, Williams also was a track athlete, earning team MVP honors in 2002 and 2003 while competing in the 100 and 200-meter dashes. He won the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference 100-meter title and finished second in the 200-meters. He was also a member of the 4x100 meter relay team, which finished first at the 2005 SIAC track and field championship.
Williams majored in electrical engineering at Tuskegee and says he is about 30 credits shy of earning his degree.
While Tuskegee has historically been known for producing black pilots during World War II, over the past few years, many players have gone on from Tuskegee to success in the NFL.
Anthony Mitchell is a strong safety with the Cincinnati Bengals. Drayton Florence, a second round draft pick in 2003, is a starting cornerback with San Diego and CB Frank Walker was selected in the sixth round of the 2003 draft by the Giants.
Edwards said if Williams, Jr. wants to join his Tuskegee alumni in the NFL, then he needs to work hard at rehabbing the knee and not sulk.
“You can’t feel sorry for yourself,” Edwards said. “If you start feeling sorry for yourself, the next thing you will be doing is not paying attention to the meetings and all-of-the-sudden you get well and you are even further behind. And that’s what’s always hard for young players…You feel bad for players when they get nixed. I told him, ‘hey, you’ll be all right. That’s the great part. You can comeback.’ We’ve got to give him some support.”
Before the injury, Williams, Jr. talked about getting the opportunity to play in the NFL. “You can’t go a day without thinking about that,” Williams, Jr. said. “It’s always on my mind and you’re always talking to your peers trying to figure out if you are going to make the team or be on the practice squad. You have to throw the negatives out of the way. I try to go away from negative conversations and keep in the positive direction and I think that I have a good chance of making this team.”
While Williams, Jr.’s chances of making the Jets are diminished while he sits with the injury and the other wide receivers get a chance to battle, he has to keep focusing on the positives and try to get back onto the field as soon as he can.