Sports

Maple Ridge football native Malcolm Williams opening eyes at mini-camp

Malcolm Williams - TIMES files
Malcolm Williams
— image credit: TIMES files

by Frank Zicarelli / Special to The TIMES

Every once in a while, a prospect falls into the lap of an organization, timing and circumstance coming together at the proper moment.

Every now and then, tracking a player from the time he's eligible for a draft and then watching as he heads south, coveting a free agent and throwing the necessary money to land him, they all go out the window.

It can easily amount to blind luck, the football fates at work when everything else makes no sense.

Take the example of Canadian receiver Malcolm Williams, who has a chance, if patience is exercised and if progress continues to be made, to be a big-time player in three-down football.

When the Toronto Argonauts were scouting a draft-eligible player from last year's class, they caught a glimpse of Williams, their interest growing each time they rewound the film and saw something new.

Williams, who grew up a B.C. Lions fan from his home in Maple Ridge, played junior football when academics derailed his university hopes. Junior football players can only play until the age of 22.

As a member of the Langley Rams, the Lions held his territorial rights.

Eventually, such designations expire.

In essence, Williams would be classified as a CFL free agent, in theory be in a position to sign with any team that showed any remote interest.

The Argos were interested in one of Williams' teammates until their plans changed.

"We saw a guy who was big and who could run," began GM Jim Barker. "You watch him at the junior football level and he made some phenomenal catches. And I mean phenomenal catches. Scott (Argos head coach Milanovich) and I were watching film of the other guy when we turned to each other and said: 'Who is that guy?' " That guy was Williams, who hasn't looked out of place at the Argos' mini-camp, despite his lack of football experience and overall knowledge of the game and the receiver position.

Vince Magri, the Argos' Canadian scouting director, deserves all the praise in pursuing Williams, who has stud written all over him, assuming he stays grounded and learns the many lessons that need to be embraced.

It's impossible to project if Williams will even be on the openinggame roster, but the kid has talent, that much is certain, and he has a future.

Big (6-foot-3, 221 pounds), fast, sure-handed, athletically gifted, Williams is an all-around athlete who played soccer as a kid, as well as football, basketball and lacrosse.

Barker believes the turning point in landing Williams arrived on Dec. 16, when his ties to B.C. ended.

Williams, who didn't have the academics to stay at UBC, made an attempt to enrol at the University of Manitoba, where his academic standing wasn't strong enough.

Enter the Argos.

His first step as a pro was taken at the team's mini-camp.

"It's definitely a new experience," said the affable Williams. "I look around and there are NFL guys to learn from.

"It's quite the blessing. I was nervous at first, but that's something I couldn't help.

"Once you start running around and playing football, the nerves go away."

Getting in and out his breaks, lining up properly, his depths, which foot to break off, there are so many little things that need to be honed, so much teaching and learning, but Williams is up to the task.

Williams was exposed to the Lions at different evaluation camps, but nothing can prepare him for a true football setting such as mini-camp, where technique trumps everything.

"I'm learning," added Williams.

"It's helping me a lot. I watch how players run their routes, watch how they prepare. I sit next to them in meetings and I try to learn as much as possible. Eventually, I want to be at that level."

Williams recalls attending at least one B.C. Lions game a season since his youth.

His idol growing up was Geroy Simon.

During his days in community football, Williams' team advanced to the provincial final played at B.C. Place.

He sat in Simon's locker stall, recreating the touchdown pose the CFL great made famous, running the tunnel so many pros have entered - it was a moment Williams said inspired him.

"You dream of being a Geroy Simon one day," he said. "Perhaps not as good, but you want to play pro football."

It was relayed to Williams that Simon's first collegiate touchdown reception at Maryland was thrown by Milanovich.

"Wow! I didn't know that." If he continues to make inroads, fans across the CFL will one day get to know Williams.

The plan for Williams is to return to B.C. and prepare for next month's rookie camp at Guelph and then the main camp.

"Train and work hard," he said of his to-do list. "I'm trying to get better. I want to come into camp ready to go, ready to learn, ready to work."

He's already made an impression.

"He's going to be a really good player down the road," said Barker. "He's a guy who has never played football at this level. If we give him time and are patient, he catches the ball so naturally and that's the one thing you can't develop.

"He's just natural and he's a great athlete from his basketball background. He surprisingly runs good routes. He's holding his own (at mini-camp) and that's what we needed to see. He'll be an interesting story and an interesting guy to watch, that's for sure."

 

- Frank Zicarelli is a reporter with The Province

Read more from The Province by clicking HERE

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