Football

This former East St. Louis football star just wanted a shot in the NFL. Now he has one.

Dan Williams, an East St. Louis High School graduate who holds the Jackson State University record for pass receptions and receiving yards, has signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets. He expects to see action in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions.
Dan Williams, an East St. Louis High School graduate who holds the Jackson State University record for pass receptions and receiving yards, has signed a free agent contract with the New York Jets. He expects to see action in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions. Jackson State

All Dan Williams wanted was a chance. The New York Jets are providing it.

Williams, a 6-foot-3, 220-pound receiver out of East St. Louis High School, signed with the Jets on Sunday and expects to play in their preseason game Saturday against the Detroit Lions.

Williams, who turned 22 just two weeks ago, brings with him the confidence that he will succeed with the Jets as he did in four years with the Jackson State Tigers, for whom he had a school-record 184 catches for 2,497 yards and 19 touchdowns.

“I’m big, and I’m a playmaker,” Williams said in a telephone interview late Thursday. “Plus, I’m fast and quick. I have the potential to be a great NFL player.”

Williams, who covers 40 yards in 4.3 seconds, said the Jets haven’t laid out their plans for him other than his need to “earn a spot.”

“That’s basically it,” said Williams, who also could see playing time on special teams. “I’m going to make the best of it. I’m making plays. What I’m going to do is keep grinding the way I’m grinding, be a great special teams player ... and do everything right. I’ll just do what I’m supposed to do.”

I’m going to make the best of it. I’m making plays. What I’m going to do is keep grinding the way I’m grinding, be a great special teams player ... and do everything right. I’ll just do what I’m supposed to do.

Dan Williams on his opportunity with the New York Jets

Williams participated in rookie minicamp with the Oakland Raiders in May but was released. The Jets invited him to work out for them at their training camp in East Rutherford, N.J. Immediately after the workout, they offered Williams a contract.

“After that (first preseason) game they had, they said they were going to fly me in Saturday,” Williams said. “I worked out Sunday and signed paperwork, so it was official.

“This is my best opportunity right here with the Jets. I think I can have a nice season for them with the type of player I am. I can fit in and do anything — play inside or outside (receiver). Just put me in position to make plays. As long as I keep doing what I’m doing, everything else is going to take care of itself.”

The Jets defeated the Tennessee Titans 7-3 in their preseason opener, with Charone Peak’s 4-yard TD catch from Josh McCown accounting for their only points.

New York’s best receiver, Robby Anderson, had three catches for 71 yards. But the Jets are looking for depth in their receiving corps after a season-ending neck injury to Quincy Enunwa, who had 58 receptions for 857 yards and four TDs in 2016.

Williams expressed surprise at being cut by the Raiders.

“I guess they didn’t like what they saw,” Williams said. “I did everything they wanted me to do. I made my plays, beat one-on-one coverage and everything. I was just a tryout guy.”

Williams graduated from East St. Louis in 2013. As a senior with the Flyers, he had 39 catches for 729 yards and eight TDs.

Williams credits Flyers coach Darren Sunkett for helping him become a star player.

“When I first got to East Side, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” he said. “It was a wake-up call for me. The way Coach Sunkett coaches football ... He’s the best coach I’ve ever been around. If you can be coached by Coach Sunkett, the way he coaches, you can do anything, you know?

“He gets you ready for college. He gets you ready for life as well.”

Williams has fond memories of his time at Jackson State. Williams had 73 catches for 1,004 yards and nine TDs as a sophomore. As a senior last fall, he had 47 receptions for 599 yards and three TDs.

“It was a good opportunity at Jackson State,” he said. “I did everything I had to do and left it all on the field. Now the next chapter in my life is with the Jets.”

Williams is one of three former metro-east stars on NFL rosters. The others are running back Brian Hill (Belleville West, University of Wyoming), who is with the Atlanta Falcons, and linebacker Chase Allen (Belleville East, Southern Illinois University Carbondale), who has 14 tackles in two preseason games with the Miami Dolphins.

“That’s a great thing,” Williams said of the metro-east’s representation in the NFL. “It’s good for the community, the city of East St. Louis and the whole metropolitan area. It gives young kids motivation.”

David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm

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