For Green Bay Packers' fifth-round draft choice D.J. Williams, it's all about family

Apr. 30, 2011

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Arkansas tight end D.J. Williams (45) reaches for the goal line to score a two-point conversion against Jermale Hines (7) of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Louisiana Superdome on Jan. 4 in New Orleans. / Chris Graythen/Getty Images


D.J. Williams was drafted by the Green Bay Packers as a tight end out of Arkansas with 10th pick of the fifth round, No. 141 overall.

He watched the draft with a small group of family, no outsiders. There was no lavish celebration planned.

“I would like to say I am (taking the family out for dinner),” Williams said, “but right now since there’s an NFL lockout, I’m currently still unemployed and have no job with no money.

“So, maybe McDonalds. Maybe we’ll branch out to Bonefish or Ruth’s Chris once the lockout is over.”

Williams laughed about the situation, but his answer was rooted in truth.

The Williams family seems to have neared the end of a very long and dark tunnel. His mother, Vicky, was forced to pack up three children and flee their home and state of Texas when D.J. was in fourth grade. His father, David, was physically abusive towards Vicky to the point where simply leaving their home wasn’t enough. They had to leave the entire state to put enough space between the family and David to finally feel safe.

David Williams is currently serving 25-year and 27-year prison sentences for attempted murder in a shooting and aggravated assault of a public servant while attempting to elude police. He is eligible for parole in 2013.

Vicky Williams packed up D.J. and daughters Vanessa and Valerie Simmons and drove to Little Rock, Arkansas in 1999. That’s when things finally changed.

“When my mom made the decision and we got to Arkansas and moved into our home, we lived in shelters for a while, and sat there that first night with no furniture in it,” Williams said. “But just the fact that it was our new home and our new life that we were starting, that’s when it all kind of turned around.

“Now we have a clean plate and we can make what we want out of it. With a strong mother and a strong family, we can do whatever we want.”

Williams developed into one of the premier tight ends in the country at Central Arkansas Christian High School and signed to play college ball at the University of Arkansas. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder went on to catch 147 passes in his final three years for 1,761 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 152 career receptions are an Arkansas record for a non-receiver. He ranks No. 2 behind Anthony Eubanks (153) regardless of position.

At the NFL combine, Williams ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, posted a 33½ vertical jump, a 9-foot-3 broad jump and benched 225 pounds 20 times.

Williams was all-Southeastern Conference as a senior, named third-team All-American by the Associated Press and won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.

“When you turn the tape on, he was one of the better players on the field no matter what game you were watching or who they were playing,” Packers tight ends coach Ben McAdoo said. “The guy is a good football player. He may not have the best measureables, may not be the tallest guy, may not be the longest guy, may not be the fastest guy, but when you turn on the tape he’s one of the best guys on the film.

“He is an extremely effective player in the pass game. He probably has the best hands of any of the tight ends in the draft. They’re natural hands. Big hands. He’s a confident hands-catcher.”

Williams will join a loaded position with Jermichael Finley (third round pick 2008), Andrew Quarless (fifth-round pick 2010), Tom Crabtree and Spencer Havner. But that was of little concern Saturday.

Williams thought he could be a possible late second-rounder Friday night, but had to wait a little longer. He’ll have to wait again for some of that NFL cash since teams are locked out, but that’s hardly an issue either.

Twelve years ago Williams, his two sisters and mother had to leave everything they knew with barely anything to survive on and wound up living in shelters. But staying in Texas would have put that very survival in jeopardy.

“We’ve been through a lot as a family,” Williams said. “Come a long way, pretty much from nothing to what we have now. Just hearing my name called today and getting the call from the Green Bay Packers was an awesome moment. I was with my family today. No media. No other outside friends. Just me and my family.

“When we saw that name across the screen, that’s when it all kind of popped into reality. We all just felt thankful for it.”

Williams hasn’t hid from his past. Many would shy away from discussions focused on a wife-beating father who’s currently in prison.

But Williams became active in the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program. He volunteered at Boys & Girls Clubs and the children’s hospital. He has brought awareness to domestic abuse and been involved in several other charitable causes.

“No matter what life throws at you, because you can’t avoid anything that life wants to throw with you, it’s how you respond from it,” Williams said. “It’s how you build your character. Are you going to be a strong man who’s going to face it and keep moving forward? Or are you going to fold?

“For me, every time adversity hits, you have to stand up like a man and take it and face it and become stronger from it.”

There may not have been a fancy restaurant in the cards Saturday night, but there will be a day before the 2011 NFL season starts where Williams will be financially self-dependent.

What happens then?

“I’m not going to say I’m one of those players who want to give their mom $50 million,” Williams said. “Being a fifth-rounder, I don’t have 50 million bucks to spend.

“But I just want to get her out of the neighborhood that we’re in currently in right now in Little Rock, somewhere nice where she doesn’t have to worry about whether she locked the doors or not.”

Reach Copeland at or at

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