Antonio Williams already holds a significant place in Giants history.
In January, the running back — who spent two years with the Bills’ organization on their practice squad and played in one game on their active roster — was signed to a futures contract. What made that mundane roster move of interest was that it served as the first made by new Giants general manager Joe Schoen.
Before Schoen hired Brian Daboll, before he knew what the Giants’ offense or roster might look like, before he tapped anyone else to follow him from Buffalo to New Jersey, before he had taken off the suit jacket he wore to his introductory news conference, he knew he wanted Williams.
That meant a lot to Williams. He’s been trying to live up to it ever since.
“A guy like myself, I haven’t done much in the NFL yet,” he said on Sunday. “But to know what I had done in the practices with them seeing me every day [in Buffalo] was enough to get an opportunity here, it does make you feel good. It gives you an extra sense of motivation to try to prove those guys right . . . I just want to make their decision to bring me here look like it was a good choice.”
So far it has appeared to be a solid acquisition. With backup Matt Breida sidelined by an injury, Williams has been running as the second-string back behind Saquon Barkley for most of the past week. He’s taken a number of first-team reps during that time, too.
On Thursday, he finished the preseason opener in New England as the game’s leading rusher, gaining 61 yards on nine carries. He also scored the Giants’ only rushing touchdown on a 2-yard run in the third quarter.
None of that is what stood out to Daboll.
“The best play he probably had was on the kickoff in the second half,” Daboll said. “He went down there and tackled a guy for not much of a gain. He was excited about that. He’s a guy that’s constantly working to try to stick on a roster, try to stick around. His mindset’s good. He’s smart.”
Williams agreed with the special teams assessment.
“Pretty solid, pretty solid,” he said of the hit on J.J. Taylor that stopped him cold at the 16.
Williams knows that’s the type of play that will keep him with the Giants. He’s scored touchdowns before — in his lone NFL regular-season game, he scored two of them against Miami in 2020 — but those didn’t lead to more chances. Making tackles on special teams might give the Giants more incentive to keep him around than anything he does with the football in his hands on offense.
“I love special teams. I love running down on kickoffs and being a physical guy,” he said. “Any time I can get my pads on somebody, I am taking advantage of it.”
Schoen and Daboll aren’t the only ones who have a past with Williams. He’s been working out in offseasons with Daniel Jones for the past few years; both grew up in the Charlotte, North Carolina, area. Williams, who played for North Carolina, said he still has scars from the 2018 game in which Jones threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another 186 yards and a touchdown in Duke’s 42-35 victory over the Tar Heels.
Williams also knows plenty of other Giants from their time in Buffalo, including Breida, center Jon Feliciano and a number of assistant coaches and front-office personnel. But it wasn’t Jones or any of them who made the call to bring Williams to the Giants. That decision belonged to Schoen.
At the time, the move was notable for just one reason, really: because it was Schoen’s first.
It’s up to Williams to determine if it winds up being memorable for more than that.