I know football is a big thing in Wisconsin. I just want to go out there and make everybody proud and be the best player I can be. – Jamaal Williams

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — As the fourth round of the National Football League draft unfolded Saturday morning, tension at Nicolle Williams’ house rose gradually.

At one point during that round, 12 running backs had been picked overall in the draft but none of them was BYU’s all-time leading running back, Jamaal Williams. Many believed he would be taken earlier, and they wondered how far he’d fall.

Things got very quiet, uncharacteristically and uncomfortably quiet. For some relatives and friends in attendance, it was torturous. Adding to the anxiousness was the fact that Jamaal's sister, Jaela, was scheduled to compete in a track meet for UNLV in Irvine later in the morning and the family wanted to be there to support her.

“This is too nerve-wracking,” Nicolle said as she sat on a couch, watching the draft on a big-screen TV, desperately hoping for her son to be picked.

Fortunately for her and the rest of the Williams family, the Green Bay Packers had their sights on Jamaal.

The Packers selected Jamaal Williams with the No. 134th overall pick in the fourth round, sparking a joyous celebration with cheers, tears, smiles and hugs as doubt and frustration gave way to relief and pure elation.

“It was a little stressful at the beginning but I’m glad to be off the board and go to the Green Bay Packers,” said Jamaal, who will leave Thursday for the Packers’ rookie mini-camp in Green Bay. “I’m happy about it. Can’t wait to go.”

While other NFL organizations had been more vocal about their interest in Williams, the Packers quietly targeted him, giving him a close look at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.

“I really thought I would go to the Packers, Philly or the Indianapolis Colts,” said Williams. “I’m glad the Packers took a chance on me. I can’t wait to get out there and help the team win."

The idea of playing at famous Lambeau Field and being a teammate of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, a two-time NFL MVP and Super Bowl champion, thrills Williams.

"I can’t wait to go out there and meet my teammates and embrace the whole Packer team and get part of that culture of the fans and everybody there," he said. "I know football is a big thing in Wisconsin. I just want to go out there and make everybody proud and be the best player I can be.”

And the Packers are in need of a running back — a strong, between-the-tackles rusher like Williams, who is expected to compete right away for the starting job.

Longtime Green Bay running back Eddie Lacy signed with Seattle in the offseason and the Packers’ leading running back a year ago was Ty Montgomery, who ran for 457 yards.

“I’m excited. In the third round, we thought it might be the Packers. They liked him all along. It’s a great fit for him," said Williams' agent, Leigh Steinberg. "They’re looking to re-invigorate their running game. It’s as classic as a franchise as there is in the NFL. They have the most amazing fans and the greatest reputation. And he’s been in Provo, so being in Green Bay, it’s not big-lights, big-city, but it’s what he’s used to.”

“It’s a great place for him,” said Williams’ trainer, Luke Neal. “It’s great because they believed in him. Jamaal has a history where, if you believe in him, and you’re loyal to him, he’ll produce for you.”

Williams is the fourth BYU running back, and 28th Cougar offensive player, to be selected in one of the first four rounds. He joins Scott Phillips (1981, 4th round, Seattle), Todd Christensen (1978, 2nd round, Dallas) and Pete Van Valkenburg (1973, 3rd round, New Orleans) as the only BYU running backs selected in one of the opening four rounds of the draft.

“I’m excited for Jamaal and I know he is prepared to play at the next level,” said BYU coach Kalani Sitake. “His style and abilities as a tough, decisive runner and good pass protector will translate extremely well to the NFL game. He can do it all and is a great person and teammate. I look forward to following his NFL career."

Williams withdrew from BYU prior to the 2015 season due to Honor Code violations before returning to the Cougars last fall. That loyalty and dedication impressed the Packers.

“We feel really good about the player and the person,” Green Bay director of college scouting Jon-Eric Sullivan told Packers.com. “The fact he came back there, I think that tells you his intestinal fortitude and what he’s made up of. It probably would’ve been easier to leave at one point and start off anew, but he came back and chose to do that. I think that says something about the kid and something we thought was an asset to his character.”

“They’re they ones that believed in him and they saw something in Jamaal,” Neal said of the Packers. “The draft is about needs and likes. I think Green Bay filled in spots they needed to and they needed a prototypical three-down back. That’s what they got with Jamaal Williams. They’re not going to look back.”

Neal is confident in what Williams can accomplish at the next level, though he was the 13th running back taken in the draft.

Jamaal Williams, former Brigham Young University running back, and his mother, Nicolle Williams, celebrate after Jamaal was drafted by the Green Bay Packers during an NFL draft watch party at Williams' mother's home in San Bernardino, California, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

“I’ve said it before. I know Jamaal’s the best back in the draft. It doesn’t matter what the numbers say,” he said. “At the end of the day, he’ll play for 10-12 years and have a very successful career. Jamaal’s going to be in the Pro Bowl someday. I know what he’ll do. I believe he’ll play longer than the other guys and that’s not to take anything away from the other guys. I just know the body of work that goes into Jamaal. He has a Walter Payton pedigree. Walter Payton was overlooked but played 14 years. That’s like what Jamaal is going to do.”

CBSSports.com gave Green Bay an “A” grade for selecting Williams. “Patient and decisive reading his blocks,” the website said. “Will battle Ty Montgomery for the starting RB job as a rookie with the Packers.”

Williams, of course, is accustomed to playing in cold weather from his time in Provo.

“He’s built to last. He’s durable and he’s a tough kid. He’s all football,” Sullivan said. “I think up here in the elements, he’ll be a good get for us when it gets cold. We’re super-excited to have him. I think he’s going to be a good football player.”

Inclement weather doesn't faze Williams, who rushed 26 times for 210 yards and a touchdown in a rainstorm during last December's Poinsettia Bowl. He is eager to play on the frozen tundra of Green Bay.

“Cold ain’t nothing,’” Williams said. “All it does is put me in a bad mood. That’s only bad for a defense.”

Speaking of moods, the Williams family was experiencing a roller-coaster of emotions Saturday morning.

Many, including Steinberg, believed Jamaal could be selected at No. 118 by the Philadelphia Eagles. A few minutes before that pick, some friends and family members in a separate room in the house erupted in cheers, leading others to believe that Williams would be taken in that spot by the Eagles.

People crowded around Williams, anticipating the big moment. But, as it turned out, it was all just a cruel prank.

“It was just playing around. It got everybody’s nerves high,” he said. “It was family being family, making sure everybody is loose and having fun instead of worrying about when I go and stressing out. I’m grateful to have a family that’s goofy and trying to have fun and not keeping things too serious.”

Jamaal Williams, former Brigham Young University running back, his grandmother, Elaine Carothers, left, and other family members and friends celebrate after Jamaal was drafted by the Green Bay Packers during an NFL draft watch party at Williams' mother's home in San Bernardino, California, on Saturday, April 29, 2017. | Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

After that moment of levity, however, there was plenty of silence in the house as other running backs, like Utah’s Joe Williams, went off the board. Joe Williams was picked No. 121 by the San Francisco 49ers.

Then, 13 selections later, the Packers called — and the celebration was on. Cheering and smiles everywhere.

Nicolle, crying, hugged her son.

“This is for her. I’m grateful for everything she’s done for me,” Jamaal said of his mother. “I’m trying to work hard for her and me too. It’s my dream. Now I’m here. I’ve been thinking about this moment since I was little. Now that I’m here, it’s time to make it work.”

Jamaal ended up talking on the phone Saturday to Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy, general manager Ted Thompson and running backs coach Ben Sirmans.

What did this day mean to Williams?

“It’s a milestone, really. I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was little playing flag football. I’ve dreamed of playing in the NFL and getting drafted,” he said. “To go and compete and play with some of the best players in the NFL and play with Aaron Rodgers, too. … Once I go in there, I’m not looking as a fan anymore. I’m looking at it as a teammate and doing whatever I need to do to win.”

View Comments

Interestingly, the Packers also drafted another Steinberg client, and another running back, UTEP’s Aaron Jones. Steinberg was happy about how the draft worked out for Williams.

“We said the end of the third or the fourth round. That’s where Jamaal went. Now it’s all in his hands," Steinberg said. "He’ll go charm those Green Bay Packers fans and have the same relationship as he’s had with BYU fans. The Packers are a winning franchise, always in the hunt. We’re excited.”

For Neal, a long Saturday morning was worth the wait.

“It was very emotional. This chapter is done and it’s on to another chapter. It’s tears of one chapter ending and another beginning,” Neal said. “God has a way of making us see things through his eyes. That was a manifestation of what God can do. Jamaal is where he needs to be, where God wants him to be. He’ll go to camp ready. But now it’s time for more work. Tonight, he and I are working out.”

Join the Conversation
Looking for comments?
Find comments in their new home! Click the buttons at the top or within the article to view them — or use the button below for quick access.