Three years ago, Brandon Williams came to Seattle looking for closure. On a Saturday in March, the tight end who was two years removed from a college career that ended abruptly and unexpectedly walked into the Virginia Mason Athletic Center not so much because he still thought an NFL career was in his future, but because he didn't want to be the guy who gave up on his dream without at least giving it one last shot.
And make no mistake about it, the Regional Combines the NFL hosts around the country each spring are all about long shots taking their last shot at an NFL dream. Of the dozens who show up to be tested, only a handful move on to the Super Combine, and fewer still ever earn an NFL contract.
Still, long shot or not, Williams had to at least find out if, buried under two years of rust, was the potential to realize his NFL dreams.
"To be honest with you, I wasn't even seriously thinking about playing football, I was doing the regional combine just for closure, just to tell myself I did everything that I could, and then if didn't work out, it just wasn't meant to be," Williams said. "I was really more focused on either being a police officer or trying to play basketball overseas. Then through the grace of God, I just got an opportunity to play football."
A week into his first training camp with the Seahawks, Williams is earning praise from his coaches for everything from his blocking ability to his work ethic to his potential to contribute on special teams, but he knows he still has work to do to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Even so, just getting to this point where Williams has a chance at extending an NFL career he never believed would happen is an opportunity he'll never take for granted.
Back in 2011, Williams took part in spring football at Oregon in preparation for a senior season in which he was expected to be a big part of Chip Kelly's offense. But then Williams' football career took an unexpected turn when team doctors discovered that he had congenital spinal stenosis, a condition Oregon doctors determined to be a career-ender. Stunned and heartbroken, Williams stuck around to finish his degree at Oregon, then played basketball at Portland Bible College—he couldn't walk-on to the team at Oregon without giving up his football scholarship.
Williams, the son of a Chicago police officer, took a low-paying job as a security guard in Portland hoping to follow in his father's footsteps. But while he worked for $11 an hour as a security guard, Williams stayed in shape, remembering the words of the Oregon doctor who told him he could have his condition re-evaluated. Williams eventually sought another medical opinion and was cleared to play, which is how he ended up at the VMAC in the spring of 2013.
Williams' workout that day was impressive enough to get the attention of multiple teams, with Carolina bringing him in for a workout. Then just before Williams was supposed to sign with the Panthers, the doctor who was scheduled to review his MRI for the team to clear Williams had a heart attack and died. Williams left Carolina without a contract, but eventually the Panthers reviewed his medical records and signed him. Williams made the team in 2013, appearing in nine games, then played in 14 games in 2014, catching four passes for 44 yards while establishing himself as a major contributor on special teams. Williams spent time in Carolina and Miami last season, then signed with Seattle as a free agent in April.
With Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson and rookie Nick Vannett all likely to be on the roster, Williams has his work cut out for him to make the team, but he has done enough in offseason workouts and in training camp that, on two different occasions, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll has singled Williams out unprompted.
"You haven't asked much about Brandon Williams yet, but Brandon Williams is a really special pick up for us," Carroll said last week when addressing the tight end position. "I don't know that you guys appreciate that he was a core special teams guys for the Panthers for a number of years and he played in a lot of games at tight end. He has done a lot of football in the league that we really respect and he has come out here and really looked good as a blocker. He's fast and tough and all that stuff, but he looks like he's got a little more strength and power than guys we have had in a while. He made a good impression, we see him fitting in too."
In the same building where he jump-started his football career three years ago, Williams is now a member of the Seahawks and hopeful that his NFL career will continue for a fourth season and beyond. He doesn't know what his future holds with the Seahawks or in the NFL in general, but having been told in 2011 that he would never play football again, he'll never take a day on the field for granted, whether it's in a regular-season game, or as a dreamer taking place in a Regional Combine three years ago, if only because he didn't want to move on in life without any lingering regrets.
"I never wanted to be the guy to say, 'I wish I would have done this, or I wish I would have done that,'" Williams said. "That's pretty much how I live my life. I always give myself as many opportunities as I can to be successful and never give up hope until the good Lord tells me I can't do it anymore… I'm grateful to be out here every day, no matter what."
The Seahawks scrimmaged against one another during the eighth practice of training camp at Virginia Mason Athletic Center.