Running back Joe Williams spoke with Bay Area reporters in the 49ers media room Thursday afternoon. Here are select quotes.
Q: John Lynch said when he first started researching you and learned you had sat out those four games, he didn’t want you on his list. Slowly but surely, you got back on that list. Did you get the sense from the attention they gave you that that was building as we got closer to the draft, that they got more and more interested in you?
WILLIAMS: It was getting there, but I just wanted to stay humble, stay modest. I kept telling myself that worst-case scenario I would be undrafted and I would just have to work a little harder.
Q: There will be people who say, “Is he tough enough to stick out?” What do you say to them?
WILLIAMS: I just plan to go out every day and go to work. I think my film says, and me speaking in front of the cameras, it helps for people to hear it from my mouth instead of just the media. Just going out to practice, learning the playbook and contributing to get the starting job this season.
Q: Do you know what number you’re going to wear?
WILLIAMS: They got a 33 in there. I mean really, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m just excited to go out and play.
Q: The fact that the 49ers stuck their necks out for you, do you feel any more added pressure to prove them right or not let them down?
WILLIAMS: I wouldn’t say added pressure. Just increased motivation, so next year everybody can say, “He was the steal of draft. He proved all the critics wrong.”
Q: When you looked at this draft and saw some of the other players, when you looked at Dalvin Cook whom you compare to very favorably, and say, “I should be up there in conversation with them.”
WILLIAMS: I do. I always tell myself and tell everybody in front of me that I was the best running back in the draft. But, you don’t have to be the first running back taken or a first-round or a second-round pick to have that inclination. It’s just what you do on the field. Everybody has where they were slotted at, but you’ll have players who don’t meet that expectation.
Q: What’s the toughest thing you’ve done in football?
WILLIAMS: Stepping away this past season. Understanding that mental health is a big thing. For a man of 23-years old who just got his sociology degree to understand that to do what’s right in his life he needed to leave the sport that he loved dearly.
Q: Walking away was tougher than coming back?
WILLIAMS: Coming back wasn’t that hard just because of the support I had from my teammates. Understanding that they unanimously wanted me to come back. Utah is that program where everybody is a brother. Pita (Toemoepenu) is right here – he’s my brother. It’s great to have him in the same uniform with me. But just being in that program, my teammates knew what I went through and they were willing to have me come back.
Q: When you stepped away, was that door kept open? Did you say you’d be open to come back?
WILLIAMS: As soon as I left? No. When I left, I gave myself the mindset that I would exercise my degree, maybe go home and coach football. I knew I was going to be more of a detriment to the team if I didn’t step back and I didn’t get my life together. I didn’t want to come back and rush things. I felt as though I did enough in those four weeks to mitigate all the wrong that I did the past 13 years because of the death of my sister. I’m a completely changed man because of that.
Q: Coach Shanahan spoke highly about your vision. Do you feel that’s a strong suit of your game, and what else do you think you can bring to the 49ers right away?
WILLIAMS: Vision is one. I think that’s key, along with my speed. Also pass protection. We’ve got a couple quarterbacks, they get paid the most so I’ve got to protect them. And just being a receiver out of the backfield. Coach Shanahan was with Devontae Freeman and Tevin Coleman last year and he used them in a variety of ways, so I just want to be able to be implemented in the offense the same way.
Q: How much communication did you have with RB coach Bobby Turner before the draft?
WILLIAMS: Whew, I thought he was like my uncle. We spoke at least once or twice every week, whether it be through a text or a phone call. I always made sure to hit him right back. I didn’t get to see him at the Combine or really speak with anybody from the 49ers, so I just wanted to keep that good rapport with him and it worked out for the best.
Q: What’s his personality like?
WILLIAMS: Did you watch the Friday series? He’s like John Witherspoon.
Q: Did leaving the game for a month make you a better player?
WILLIAMS: It did. Like I said earlier, mental health is a very frowned-upon thing. People hear “crazy” and they want to close that door. Just for me to fix that in my head and understand that football is such a key to me beside my family. And my sister. When I came back, that was that chip on my shoulder. The guilt was gone, so that added to more of the motivation. And just the scrutiny that I was getting from some of the fans and people around the world who were coming at me. It was just built up aggression that I was letting out every week.
Q: What happened at UCONN when you were kicked off the team?
WILLIAMS: Basically, I had a roommate who sold me a backpack that was marginally less than what it was at retail, and he had used our teammate’s credit card to buy it, and he had shipped it in my name to my address. So when the prosecution was going through, all ties led back to me. I fought it through the school and remained in good standing. They felt as though I was innocent. But for the university to reinstate me on the football team, they couldn’t because the case was still open and they didn’t want that bad publicity of having a kid who “we see” used a credit card and “we see” it was his fault.
Q: How did that case resolve itself?
WILLIAMS: Just a little fine, $200. Which is ironic because that’s how much the bag cost.