Armando Salguero

A long shot makes a wild attempt at getting the Miami Dolphins’ attention | Opinion

To say Kieron Williams dreams of playing in the NFL probably isn’t right. Because some nights Williams wants it so much, he doesn’t sleep at all. And because talking about dreams diminishes the actual work Williams has done and unorthodox extremes he has tried to make his hope a reality.

This is a about a desperate reach for that hope. About doing all one knows to do to find an opportunity.

Williams has been trying to get the attention of a professional team for months now. He played for the Arizona Hotshots of the now-defunct American Football Alliance last spring but wasn’t signed by any NFL team for training camp in the summer. That wasn’t unusual for Williams.

After a productive career at the University of Nebraska, Williams wasn’t invited to the NFL Combine in 2018. Wasn’t drafted. Wasn’t signed as a free agent after the draft. Wasn’t invited to a rookie tryout camp.

Kieron Williams, star prep athlete from Shreveport, Louisiana, and a decorated member of Nebraska’s Blackshirts defense, was forgotten by professional football.

Except this guy isn’t going quietly into obscurity. Which is why a few weeks ago he attempted a very unusual way to connect with the Miami Dolphins. And, yes, that’s where he’s at now.

Desperate.

It wasn’t always this way for Williams.

“I have that story of not having a dad around and having to play football and teaching myself,” Williams says over a crackling cellphone connection from Lincoln, Nebraska. “But even though my dad wasn’t around, I still ended up with a 27 on my ACT. I had the opportunity to go to the Air Force Academy. I was the No. 35 safety in the nation and was committed to Ole Miss.

“But I tore up my knee and lost all my scholarship offers. Nobody really wanted me anymore.”

His chances of playing in the SEC quashed, Williams decided to play for the USA. He was admitted to the Air Force Academy prep school, where students who don’t get full Academy appointments are given a 10-month course to be considered for an appointment the following year.

After those 10 months, Air Force defensive backs coach Charlton Warren was hired at Nebraska, and he offered Williams a football scholarship to follow him there.

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Kieron Williams, a 6-foot-1, 195-pound safety had 69 tackles and five interceptions in his junior season with the University of Nebraska in 2016. He intercepted five passes and returned one for a touchdown. He had four tackles for loss. Courtesy of Kieron Williams

Williams was very good his junior year at Nebraska. The 6-foot-1, 195-pound safety had 69 tackles. He intercepted five passes and returned one for a touchdown. He had four tackles for loss.

“But my senior year we got a new defensive coordinator,” Williams, 24, says. “He didn’t like my game as much. He saw me being a different type of player, and we went in that direction. I didn’t play as much.”

The stats, impressive in 2016, fell off the table in 2017 when Williams was a senior. That and the 4.63 time in the 40 Williams has run in multiple timings are probably the reasons no professional team has shown interest because, oh yeah, Williams isn’t a problem guy.

He was never arrested while at Air Force Preparatory or Nebraska. He says he has never failed a drug or performance-enhancing drug test. He was ticketed in Arizona for marijuana possession after the AAF shut down, but the misdemeanor was adjudicated in court and went away.

“I’ve been on this straight grind mode ever since,” Williams says.

Working out, getting stronger and faster and better is one thing. And Williams says he cannot remember taking a day off from that regimen since February — except for a couple of days.

The days he chased his Miami Dolphins goal.

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“God put it on my heart, that if I truly, truly believe and trust Him the way I say I do and I truly believe in myself and my game the way I say, then I’ll go to whatever extent it takes to make that happen,” Williams says.

“So two or three weeks ago I hear Him say, ‘How about you go to Miami?’ I didn’t know how I was going to get to Miami. I only had $200 to my name. And I didn’t even know what was going to come out of it. I’d never spoken to anyone within the organization.“

Williams researched the Dolphins and came across the name Anthony Hunt, one of Miami’s co-directors of player personnel.

“I had never seen him before. I’d never talked to him,” Williams says. “But I had his email so I emailed him. I got no response, but it was still on my heart to go to Miami. So I said, ‘You know what God, I’m going to trust you and go.’ ”

Williams got in his 2008 Honda Accord — the one with 185,000 miles on it — and drove to South Florida from Lincoln. He drove 14 hours to Atlanta and then drove another 10 hours to Miami.

The first day he ate just once. The second day was better because he ate twice and arrived at an Airbnb his girlfriend paid for. The place was 15 minutes from the Dolphins’ Davie training facility.

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Kieron Williams said of his NFL chances: ‘God put it on my heart, that if I truly, truly believe and trust Him the way I say I do and I truly believe in myself and my game the way I say, then I’ll go to whatever extent it takes to make that happen.’ Courtesy of Kieron Williams

“I made it to Miami and my stomach is super hurting really bad and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing right now,” Williams says. “Like, am I really going in there and ask these people for an opportunity? How am I going to do this? And I heard Him keep saying, ‘I’ll lead you, I’ll lead you. I got it, I’ll lead you.’ ”

No one gets into the lobby of the Dolphins’ training facility without an electronic card or the receptionist ringing the door to open. But when Williams arrived the door simply opened.

“That was confirmation for me saying, ‘Yes, He is going before me,’ “ Williams says.

Williams told receptionist Valerie Tucci he had an appointment with Hunt. He had no such appointment. Tucci called Hunt’s office and there was no answer. So she emailed him that his appointment was waiting in the lobby.

“Literally 30 seconds later I see a guy out of the corner of my eye,” Williams says. “Now, I’ve never seen Anthony Hunt before. And in my mind, no offense to him, Anthony Hunt to me sounds like an older black dude.”

Anthony Hunt is a bald middle-aged white guy.

Tucci says to Hunt, ‘Oh that was quick.”

Hunt asks, ‘What was quick?”

And now Kieron Williams, who stole five opponent passes his junior season at Nebraska, intends to steal five minutes from a Dolphins personnel man.

“I introduced myself and the first thing he said was ‘We don’t hold...,’ and I’m sure what he was going to say is the Dolphins don’t hold open tryouts,” Williams says. “I stopped him before that. I said, ‘Look, I came here to represent myself. I came here because you guys have 1,200 guys and agents reaching out to you on a daily basis, but I wanted to set myself apart.

“Even if that meant driving 24 hours, even if that meant being able to talk to you for maybe five minutes, even if that meant not getting the storybook ending that a lot of people hope for, I still am committed to this that much.”

It didn’t go horribly. But it didn’t go great. Hunt, who refused multiple Miami Herald interview requests for this story, was not receptive at first, according to Williams.

“Through my eyes, when I first got a chance to talk to him, he was standoffish,” Williams says. “I could see he felt this is just another guy trying to do his thing to get in or whatever. I could feel that vibe. But after I explained who I am as a guy, my background, my story, that vibe had changed a little.

“For me the bottom line was not that he would make promises because those guys can’t make promises, and even if they do they probably don’t keep them. But he said, ‘We’re truly going to continue to keep up with you,’ and that felt more sincere than when other guys say, ‘Oh yeah, we’ll call you.’

“From how super turned off he was at the beginning of our conversation, I felt a change when I explained to him how I’m really about this.”

Hunt works for a head coach who sent letters to all 32 NFL teams asking for a job when he graduated Boston College. Brian Flores even offered to work for free. Flores got his NFL break when the New England Patriots answered his letter and gave him a job.

But based on how Hunt has distanced himself from this story, he isn’t going to give Williams a similar opportunity.

“He said we’re going to make sure we keep up with you and I truly believed it,” Williams says. “To me, I know most people would say you’re wasting your time. But me personally it was worth doing that because I got a chance to look him in the eyes and shake his hand instead of being one of the thousand phone calls they get a day.”

Williams is not fooling himself. He knows he faces the longest of long odds. And those odds got worse last week when the XFL held its inaugural draft and he was not selected.

“Yeah, my odds are definitely not high, for sure. For sure,” Williams admits. “I’m definitely aware of the entire situation.”

But Kieron Williams says he’s not quitting. His hope was not quashed by the unfruitful meeting with Hunt. It did not fade when the XFL’s New York and St. Louis teams called before the draft and then neither selected him.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for me,” Williams says. “And nobody’s going to wait on me. Either I actually go out and try to make this stuff happen and represent myself, and do what I have to do to make my dream a reality or it’s not going to happen. Because me sitting at home ... is not going to change anything.”

And where does this, this refusal to quit, to be defeated, to stop hoping and go do something easier come from?

“If I don’t do this, my little brother will be looking up to somebody that didn’t go hard for his dream so he’ll say, ‘I don’t have to go hard for my dream because my big brother didn’t,’ “ Williams says. “I have to do this because in my family I’m the one that’s made it the furthest and if I don’t do this to the fullest extent and the most energy that I have, I won’t be able to sleep.

“I don’t have a choice. There are no other options.”

Armando Salguero has covered the Miami Dolphins and the NFL since 1990, so longer than many players on the current roster have been alive and since many coaches on the team were in middle school. He was a 2016 APSE Top 3 columnist nationwide. He is one of 48 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters. He is an Associated Press All-Pro and awards voter. He’s covered Dolphins games in London, Berlin, Mexico City and Tokyo. He has covered 25 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, and the Olympics.
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