SCHNECKSVILLE, Pa. — The first phone call Andre Williams received during the NFL draft came at 7:59 p.m. last Friday. He was mid-squeeze of a lime wedge as he whipped up his homemade jerk ginger-lime BBQ sauce.
On the kitchen counter, a television showed the St. Louis Rams on the clock, preparing to make pick No. 41 in the second round. Williams wiped off his fingers, reached into the right pocket of his camouflage cargo shorts and pulled out his cell phone. This was a surprise.
“Mom?!” Williams called out. “What are you doing?”
A few feet behind Andre, Lancelene Williams glanced down at the phone she was holding. Accidental dial. Whoops.
“Calling you?” she asked. “I didn’t mean to!”
Andre shook his head and slid the phone back into his pocket. Back to the sauce. Back to waiting.
Williams, the former Boston College running back and a Heisman finalist, was told he’d go anywhere from the second to fifth round, which meant any time between 7 p.m. Friday to about 4 p.m. Saturday—an impossibly long time to be expecting a phone call you can’t miss.
He hunkered down at his parents’ home in Schnecksville, Pa., a quiet community about 10 miles northwest of Allentown where one street sign actually reads “Rural Road.” Twenty-five people circulated in and out of the house throughout the weekend—family, friends, even his little brother’s senior prom date—and Williams was often the quietest one in the room. For the time being, his future was in someone else’s hands.
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Williams stood in front of the television in the living room on Friday evening, three minutes before the second round began, holding the remote. The volume needed to be loud enough to hear the NFL Network broadcast over the din of the room, but not so loud that he wouldn’t be able to hear his phone ring. He settled on level 48.
Though he rushed for 2,177 yards last season and won the Doak Walker award, Williams preferred to be at home rather than at Radio City Music Hall. After all, he keeps his trophy for being college football’s premier running back on a nightstand in his childhood bedroom. The occasion brought Lancelene and Ervin Williams’ four kids back together under the same roof: Ervin, Jr., 29, a barber in Atlanta; Krystal, 25, a third-grade teacher in New Jersey; and Kareem, 17, a senior at Parkland High School.
Being a guest of honor, though, doesn’t come naturally to Andre. He spent most of the night acting more like a host: picking up cans and bottles, carefully brushing the chicken wings with his special sauce and preparing the mashed potato recipe borrowed from his girlfriend, Carolyn Jay, a senior at Boston College. He kept a white kitchen towel draped over his shoulder the entire night.
But his five high school football teammates who came bursting through the back door were a reminder that he’s living out all of their football dreams. They still couldn’t believe he got to meet Barry Sanders at the Heisman Trophy ceremony. “I went from nobody knew who I was,” said Williams, who only ran for 599 yards as a junior, “to everybody knew who I was.”
But what that meant for his pro prospects was still anyone’s guess. As the living room filled up, guessing became the party game du jour: Where will ’Dre go? Who will be the first running back off the board? They tried to think with their heads, not their hearts.
“Tre Mason, he’s going to be next,” Lancelene decided, naming Auburn’s running back.
“That’s how you feel, mom?” Andre teased her.
“No, that’s not the way I feel,” she said. “That’s what they are predicting.”
“So, what do you predict?” he asked.
Lancelene waited until her son was out of earshot before confiding in a friend. “He was saying he really likes New York,” she said, “so I’m hoping New York.”
Williams, meanwhile, pulled out his phone to check Twitter. He found an @ mention from Mark Herzlich, his former Boston College teammate and Giants linebacker, saying he was looking for Williams to be drafted Friday night.
Williams quickly fired off a reply: “part of me feels like this is [an] omen Herz.”
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“Ooh!” Lancelene yelped. “A running back!”
At 8:46 p.m. on Friday, the first running back was drafted: Washington’s Bishop Sankey, No. 54 overall by the Titans. The NFL’s shift toward aerial attacks and using running backs by committee has changed how teams value the position. After Sankey, finally, there was a run on running backs late in the second round.
LSU’s Jeremy Hill was taken with the next pick, by the Bengals. Then the 49ers traded up to nab Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde with pick No. 57.
“Another one?” Krystal asked.
“That means I’m not going out West,” Williams said. “I’d be cool with going out West. But I’d rather stay here.”
Williams headed to the backyard for some fresh air. His older brother, nicknamed Danique, spent almost the entire night outside grilling, with good reason: They cooked nearly 150 chicken wings. Plus, his cell phone was the secondary contact number Williams gave to NFL teams. Danique patted the front pocket of his jeans. “I’m staying out here where it’s quiet,” he said. Big brother move.
“I’m glad the running backs are starting to go,” Williams said.
“Yeah, but it’s not you,” said Diab Hadeed, his best friend from Parkland.
“It’s not me,” Williams repeated.
By 9:30 p.m., when the second round ended, the energy in the house began to wane. Danique came inside to take a shower—his wife watched his phone while he was gone—and Krystal nodded off on one of the easy chairs. Lancelene busied herself with cleaning the pots and pans. Williams swapped his glass of Pinot grigio for strawberry-peach juice, and settled onto the couch with Carolyn.
Five more running backs came off the board in the third round: West Virginia’s Charles Sims to the Buccaneers. Mason to the Rams. Towson’s Terrance West to the Browns. Georgia Southern’s Jerick McKinnon to the Vikings. Kent State’s Dri Archer to the Steelers. Williams sat with his hand on Carolyn’s knee. “Oh my gosh,” he said softly when he heard Archer’s name, the third running back in a span of four picks.
“This concludes Round 3,” NFL VP Troy Vincent said at 11:17 p.m. Even though her son was still on the board, Lancelene clapped. The 20 or so people in the living room were slow to get up.
Williams’ high school buddies asked about the plans for tomorrow. “I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said, but he wasn’t in a bad mood. He knew he’d put in the work to make it to the next level. The wait would just simply last another night.
“What do you always tell me? The sun rises every day,” one friend offered, and Williams laughed heartily.
“Don’t worry, you’ll go tomorrow,” Lancelene said. “In the name of sweet Jesus.”
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