Ishaq Williams admitted that he may get “a little bit” emotional when he takes the field for the Giants on Friday night in the preseason opener against the Dolphins. But at least he won’t be alone.
The Brooklyn product who has not played in an actual football game since 2013 expects to have plenty of friends and family members in the stands at MetLife Stadium. They’re the ones who supported him when he was indefinitely suspended from the team at Notre Dame in 2014 following an academic dishonesty investigation. They’re the ones who helped him continue to pursue his dream of playing professional football without the infrastructure of a college program. And they’re the ones who likely will be the most excited when Williams runs through the tunnel, gets into the action, and maybe even makes a big play for the Giants’ defense the way he has been doing lately in training camp.
“I’m sure it’s going to be emotional for them,” Williams said. “They’ve seen me go through so much and now that I’m finally here, it’ll be a great experience for everybody.”
Football hasn’t provided many great experiences in recent years. At one point, soon after his suspension, his weight ballooned to 300 pounds. He showed up as a tryout at Giants rookie minicamp in April and faced some skeptical eyes.
“I mean, [football] is not something that you can go out to the playground and play,” Ben McAdoo said at the time. “You need it to be on a team and be around a team. It is tough to simulate the game.”
He wound up getting a contract as a free agent, though, and this week McAdoo changed his tone regarding Williams.
“He’ll be an interesting guy to see play in the game,” McAdoo said. “I’m looking forward to watching him. He’s a big man that can cover a lot of ground. He’s raw, hasn’t played a lot of football. So the more reps we can get him, the better.”
He’s also learning a new position. At Notre Dame he played outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme and was at defensive end when he tried out with the Giants in the spring. Shortly after signing, though, the team switched him to outside linebacker in their 4-3 system. While the essential part of the position name is the same, Williams said his role on the Giants is “totally new” and that his job at Notre Dame was “nothing compared to this.”
But he was excited by the opportunity. He liked being challenged, and as a former star receiver at Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, he enjoyed the idea of being in coverage.
“I saw it as a good thing,” he said of the change, first to the strong side and now more on the weak side. “It was great that they saw I was athletic enough to do the job and they had faith I could learn it in a short amount of time.”
If this week’s practices are any indication, that move is paying dividends. Williams made a series of strong plays, including coming up to cover and stop a short pass to running back Paul Perkins and intercepting a pass that was batted in the air by cornerback Donte Deayon.
“It’s a process, getting used to the physical aspect of it, and the mental aspect as well,” Williams said. “Studying, watching the plays develop, and reacting accordingly. I’m trying to get a grasp on the defense and learn every day.”
There should be plenty to learn on Friday night when Williams and others get their first taste of the NFL. Most of the others, though, played in games several months ago in college. Williams has to reach back further to remember what gameday feels like.
“I’m a little nervous,” he said. “Just go out there and give it my best shot, that’s all I can do.”