HAMILTON — Chris Williams knows he is fast. He knows he is short and skinny, too, a generous 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds. But the Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver/returner smiles with the confidence of a healthy 24-year-old who can run as fast as he wants.
“Oh, there is no deceptiveness about the speed,” Williams said after Friday’s walkthrough at Ivor Wynne Stadium before Saturday’s game against the Montreal Alouettes.
“I’m not going to try and run over anybody who is 300 pounds. It is about understanding [your abilities], and then just understanding the game.”
As Williams spoke his smile grew wider — not an arrogant grin but a satisfied one. He was named CFL special teams player of the week after returning a punt 89 yards and a missed field goal 119 yards for touchdowns last Saturday against Toronto. Along with a 34-yard touchdown catch, Williams became the first player since Edmonton running back Eric Blount and B.C. running back Cory Philpot in 1995 to score three touchdowns in a game three different ways. The Argos always seemed to be behind him.
“If you can see something maybe a step faster, or a half-step, it is going to give you a chance to make a big play,” he said.
But after explaining how he can exploit any running lane opened by blocks from teammates, Williams paused, and the smirk disappeared. He knows he is fast, but he also thinks he is imperfect. He sounded more self-corrective than self-deprecating.
“There is nothing right now that I do that is good enough,” the New Mexico State product said.
He might be his harshest critic. Williams has 14 catches this season, the most of Hamilton’s deep receiving corps. He is second in the league in punt return (20.6 yards) and kickoff return (28.0) average. And he has three return touchdowns. The sophomore jinx does not apply.
“[Williams] is excitement when he gets the ball,” receivers coach Jeremaine Copeland said.
“The kid has out-of-this-world talent,” quarterback Henry Burris added.
When asked to make a comparison, Burris said Williams is his own unique mixture, with the agility of former Saskatchewan receiver Eric Guliford and the breakaway speed of Calgary receiver Romby Bryant and Edmonton legend Henry (Gizmo) Williams.
But Williams put his hands in his pockets and spoke about potential as if it is the one thing he wants to run fastest and farthest from.
“Shoot, I’ve dropped punts or dropped kickoffs, and there are tons of things you can do perfect that I’m not doing,” he said.
Williams then pointed to his mistake on a receiving route last Saturday that led to a fourth-quarter Toronto interception to stress he still needs to work on his connection with Burris.
“[Williams] is so fast we have to get him in and out of his breaks [at the end of routes] and make sure is he coming back flat or back downhill,” Copeland said. “But whenever I start talking to him, he is always asking questions about what to make him better.”
Special teams head coach Jim Daley marvels at Williams’ studiousness. Williams does not run irresponsibly, the coach said. He combs the playbook, maps the field in his mind, and knows where and how to react. Williams waited before veteran linebackers Jamall Johnson and Rey Williams cleared a path on Hamilton’s goal line before exploding into his missed-field- goal touchdown last week.
“[Williams] is a mature man,” Daley said. “He might be a young person, but he has just come in, from day one, and been focused. He concentrates and learns and plays with great enthusiasm. When you have those ingredients you have a chance at great success.”
Still Williams is a little reluctant to completely embrace the highlights or the headlines. Whatever qualities he thinks he has, or whatever adjectives others use to describe him, he is only a football player at his core, a component in a body with 45 other pieces. He knows he is fast, but he always wants to be reliable.
“It is not exactly you you’re affecting [with your play], it might be your teammate,” Williams said. “You definitely don’t want to put them in a situation where they can get hurt.”