Wil­liams re­vives ca­reer with Bills

For­mer CFL top re­ceiver worked his way to ros­ter, con­trib­uted win­ning TD

The Peterborough Examiner - - SPORTS - JOHN WAWROW

OR­CHARD PARK, N.Y. — Duke Wil­liams stopped dream­ing of scor­ing his first Na­tional Foot­ball League touch­down some three years ago, when the re­ceiver es­sen­tially walked away from the game.

Wil­liams had no de­sire to con­tinue play­ing af­ter go­ing un­drafted in 2016 and then be­ing cut by the Los An­ge­les Rams be­fore the start of the sea­son.

And it sure looked as if the NFL had no in­ter­est in a once promis­ing player with a check­ered past af­ter Wil­liams was kicked out of Auburn five games into his se­nior sea­son fol­low­ing a bar fight in which he broke a team­mate’s jaw.

“I wasn’t think­ing about foot­ball no more,” Wil­liams said Mon­day, when he re­joined the Buf­falo Bills (4-1) for prac­tice fol­low­ing the team’s bye week. “I didn’t know what I was go­ing to do.”

Wil­liams has made the most of sec­ond chances dur­ing a ca­reer arc that has im­pressed and sur­prised many, in­clud­ing him.

He spent two years in Ed­mon­ton, where he led the Cana­dian Foot­ball League with 1,579 yards re­ceiv­ing last sea­son. He signed with Buf­falo in Jan­uary but was among the team’s fi­nal cuts in Au­gust. Wil­liams then went from spend­ing the first four weeks on Buf­falo’s prac­tice squad to scor­ing the de­ci­sive touch­down in a 14-7 win at Ten­nessee in his NFL de­but as a 26-year-old rookie Oct. 6.

With Buf­falo fac­ing third-andthree from Ten­nessee’s seven, Wil­liams burst in­side and had a step on a de­fender to make a two-handed grab of Josh Allen’s pass with 9:46 re­main­ing.

“Never give up. Never give up,” Wil­liams said.

“I had my days and my doubts, like, ‘Man, this is not go­ing to work out.’ But, at the end of the day, I over­came ad­ver­sity and it made me the man who I am to­day. I don’t re­gret noth­ing.”

He fin­ished catch­ing all four passes thrown in his di­rec­tion for 29 yards, and was sec­ond among Bills re­ceivers in play­ing 50 snaps as he took over the slot re­ceiver’s role pre­vi­ously held by Zay Jones.

Wil­liams’ per­for­mance was so encouragin­g, the Bills traded Jones — a for­mer sec­on­dround pick — to Oak­land the fol­low­ing day for a 2021 fifthround draft pick. Gen­eral man­ager Bran­don Beane said Wil­liams’ pro­mo­tion was likely go­ing to cut into Jones’ play­ing time.

Beane added that he had pre­vi­ously turned down trade of­fers for Jones dat­ing to the pre­sea­son.

“I think it was tim­ing more than any­thing, but it helps to know the guy you brought up came in and it wasn’t too big for him, but I never thought it would be for Duke,” Beane said.

Wil­liams will be ex­pected to do more of the same on Sun­day when Buf­falo hosts Mi­ami (0-5).

At six-foot-three and 225 pounds, Wil­liams is Buf­falo’s tallest re­ceiver, and has also shown an abil­ity to use his big body as a blocker and out­mus­cle de­fend­ers.

Wil­liams first caught the Bills’ at­ten­tion in the pre-sea­son when he had eight catches for 71 yards and two touch­downs, mostly against sec­ond- and third-string de­fences.

Fail­ing to make Buf­falo’s sea­son-open­ing ros­ter didn’t bother Wil­liams, who in­stead took it as one more chal­lenge to over­come.

“I wasn’t mad. I was happy I still had a job,” Wil­liams said. “It was a bless­ing. I still at­tacked the day and at­tacked prac­tice as if I was play­ing that Sun­day. I never took a day off.”

Of­fen­sive co-or­di­na­tor Brian Daboll said Wil­liams is the type of player he roots for be­cause of his per­se­ver­ance.

“He came to work ev­ery day when he was on the prac­tice squad, got bet­ter, knew the game plan,” Daboll said. “And those are the guys you bring up in-house that you’d like to give an op­por­tu­nity to when they earn it. And he’s cer­tainly earned it.”

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE PHOTO

Buf­falo wide re­ceiver Duke Wil­liams scores the win­ning touch­down against Ten­nessee on Oct. 6.

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