Many times, the best way for a rookie to make an immediate impact in the NFL is by contributing on special teams, whether as a return specialist or on coverage teams.
If your favorite NFL team is looking for that kind of player in this year’s draft, Boise State’s Avery Williams is the prospect they have to get familiar with.
An electric return man with an incredibly impressive special teams resume, Williams recently spoke exclusively with The Draft Network about his underdog mentality, how he developed into the best return man in all of college football, and why an NFL team should use one of their draft picks on him.
JM: You’re a former walk-on turned All-American. You don’t see that every day. Tell me about your journey.
AW: I didn’t have any scholarship offers coming out of high school. I went to two different high schools. I played my senior year at JSerra Catholic HS down in Orange County. I played for three years before that at St. Francis. I had great experiences at both schools. I really built my foundation at St. Francis.
I felt like I needed a bigger challenge. That’s when I went down to Orange County, an area I believe to be the best of all the high school football areas in the country. We played against the best high school football teams in the nation. It was the best thing for me. It helped me see where I was at.
I didn’t have any offers at the time. I played a few different positions. I played a lot of running back. I played some safety. I actually didn’t play cornerback until my last two games of high school which is pretty funny now. I ended up winning Co-MVP of the league.
I thought I would pick up a late offer at that point. It never came. By the grace of God and through a connection that I had, I was able to get preferred walk-on offers at Boise State and Colorado. I took trips to both and it was the easiest decision I ever made. I went to Boise State because the people there were so welcoming.
Boise State is filled with high-character people. They really rubbed off on me. That’s why I’m where I am today. I walked on at Boise State and I did everything I expected to do. I kept my head down and went to work. I did everything that was asked of me. The wonderful staff at Boise State had always my back.
It paid off in the long run. That’s why you and I are on this call right now.
JM: That’s terrific. You’re an elite special teams player. You had four special teams touchdowns in 2020 alone. You returned both punts and kicks, you played on the coverage teams as well. You did it all. What do you enjoy about playing special teams?
AW: I enjoy every aspect of it. I love when a reporter asks me about special teams. It just gets me fired up (laughs). It puts a huge smile on my face. Special teams doesn’t get enough respect, especially in college. We did a great job taking advantage of that at Boise State.
A lot of teams just don’t prepare on that side of the ball. A lot of teams don’t put the work in. It takes time and effort to improve on special teams. I love every aspect of it. It’s the third part of the game.
I also feel like it’s the easiest side of the game to change and make an impact on. When it comes to punt and kick returns, I feel like they’re the easiest opportunities to make a big, explosive play. A play that results in chunk yardage on special teams changes the game. It can be tough for a college offense to march down the length of the field.
I’ve done a lot of things in my career from a special teams perspective outside of being a return man. I had nine career touchdowns but I’ve also blocked a field goal, I blocked an extra point, I’ve blocked three punts and I forced a fumble on a kickoff. Wherever I was needed, that’s where I was. You’re always going to have a player or two that are too important to play special teams. For me, I’m too important to NOT be on special teams. I have a great passion for it.
JM: I absolutely love that. How does one become such a good special teams player? How did you train yourself to become so electric on special teams?
AW: It started during my freshman year when I redshirted. Something coach Bryan Harsin said to me, he always preached for us redshirt guys to work while we wait. Coach Harsin is at Auburn now. A redshirt year isn’t a year off. It was one of the best things for me. It allowed me to take some time to develop both mentally and physically. I watched film on a bunch of guys. I would watch film on the returners on my team. I looked for where they were productive and which areas they could improve in. I always took something away from that. I identified which techniques I liked and disliked. I took the best from everybody and applied myself.
As I watched our games from the sidelines, I noticed a lot of opportunities out there. I was watching film of our field goal blocking team. I was watching film on kickoffs in the locker room with my pads on right before a game (laughs). If I could find something, anything that could swing the game in our favor, I was going to identify and exploit it. I never hesitated to walk up to my coaches and share an idea with them. They gave me the freedom to call things and make adjustments. They trusted me. They knew how much time I spent in the film room on special teams. I was always trying to further my understanding of the game.
JM: That’s incredible. I’m not sure I’ve ever spoken with a player that is so dedicated to special teams. You’re more than that, though. You also play cornerback. Tell me a little about the skill set you possess there.
AW: I’m a physical corner. I like to play with a little finesse as well. I played for three different cornerback coaches at Boise State. Every single one of them taught me something different. We always talked about football intelligence, which I feel might be my strongest asset on the field.
I’ll call things out for my teammates as well. I’m trying to help every single one of us succeed. I want all of us to understand the game at a high level, to understand how offenses are trying to attack us. I understand formations, personnel, and things of that nature. There are a thousand things that go into it. Down and distance is very important. You have to understand situational football, things like the two-minute drill.
I’m also a playmaker at the position. I can make a tackle on a runner in space. I made big plays in big games. If you go back and watch all my championship games, those were probably my best games. I had a lot of other great games as well, but I always stepped up on the biggest stage. I was motivated to get better and better every game, every season. I may have played my best game in my final game at Boise State.
JM: That’s terrific. You’ve really impressed me today, Avery. In closing, why should an NFL team use one of their draft picks on Avery Williams?
AW: Avery Williams is going to give you his heart. I’m gonna put my heart on the table and give you my all. I feel like I’m one of the most versatile players in this draft. I’m a kick returner, a punt returner, I can block punts, and I can block field goals. I can play as a nickel corner in the slot. I can cover the fastest receiver on the other team. I can blitz and rush the quarterback.
I’ve been used in a variety of ways and I’ve been exposed to everything on defense. This past year alone, I played snaps at safety, outside corner, and in the slot. I’m a four-year starter with a lot of experience. I’m a high-character guy that loves the game. You never have to worry about me off the field. I’m the first guy in, last one out type. You know what you’re getting in me. I’m never going to lose focus.
Another thing, I can actually play on offense as well. I wish none of our 2020 games got canceled because our coaches had some plays for me at running back (laughs). That would have been fun. We just didn’t end up getting around to it.
That’s just some of the things I can do.