It is only Trent Williams’ first season with the 49ers but there are many reasons why it feels like home for him.
After being named to his eighth Pro Bowl in nine years, the left tackle shared why it was even more special to receive the honor this season. His bond with coach Kyle Shanahan and game plan specialist Chris Foerster played a significant role in his success as well as offering parallel paths by all three men.
Williams was the No. 4 overall selection by Washington in the 2010 NFL Draft. That same year, Shanahan took over offensive coordinating duties with the club under his father Mike, who had just been named head coach. Foerster was the offensive line coach.
"As a rookie, my head was spinning,” Williams recalled on Tuesday. “Coach Shanahan called me into his office, I’ll never forget it. He quoted how much I was getting paid a year, how much I had signed for. ‘We’re not helping you. You’re going to have to grow up on the field to show you can do it, or prove to us that you can’t.’”
Williams took the tough-love talk to heart. He met running back Adrian Peterson and learned how to take care of his body and train when away from the team facility. The two still work out together in Houston during the offseason.
In his sophomore season the left tackle played well enough to start turning heads but Williams still had some growing up to do.
“I just wanted to come back and answer every question that I had, that I thought he had,” Williams said. "I felt like I played extremely well my second year and probably would have made the Pro Bowl but I was a bone-head, and got suspended the last four games.”
Williams says he has no one to blame but himself for his troubles but did add that both Shanahan and Foerster were there for him from the beginning. Shanahan challenged the lineman to play better on the field and Foerster was there as a teacher and father figure.
“I always looked at Kyle as that boy-genius and I think Chris was that calming force to me,” Williams said. “Mike was always on me about being better and I think Chris was that liaison between us to kind of deliver the message in a way that my immature mind could understand it and to motivate me to want to be a better professional, not just a better player.
“I probably wouldn’t be here if I came in a different situation. I don’t know if I’d be the person or player I am today. I’m extremely thankful for not just Coach Foerster and Kyle Shanahan but Mike Shanahan and all the other coaches on the staff today.”
The familiar faces in Santa Clara made joining the 49ers an easy decision for Williams. While there were other options on the table, Shanahan and Foerster tipped the scales. They might be able to pull the feat off again in 2021 as all parties have already expressed interest in making Williams a fixture with the organization.
One of the reasons why Williams is so loyal to his 49ers coaches is their history of giving the veteran left tackle a second chance — another parallel in their paths. While offensive line coach John Benton was sidelined for the past two contests with COVID-19, Foerster helped out with game day duties.
Foerster has spent the 2020 season as a game plan specialist for the 49ers after two seasons as a consultant. He resigned from his last offensive line coaching job for the Miami Dolphins in 2017 after a video of him snorting a white powder went viral.
Williams knows the challenges of rebuilding a reputation all too well. Seeing Foerster back as an on-field coach for the past two games was like old times for both men.
“For me it was gratifying,” Williams said. “Like myself, he’s come through a lot and he’s shown a complete change to everybody and I think everyone can notice it. He’s a far greater coach than what he was when he left me and I’m so proud to see his maturation and see him continue to turn into the coach he is today and come through all the shortcomings and judgment.
“Everyone is going to have an opinion but for him to keep going and to keep plugging away and to show his passion each and every day for the game, you can’t say enough about him. I love him to death. He’s family to me so it’s obviously always good to see him in that position.”
The eighth Pro Bowl nod of Williams' career was anything but routine. It came not only with a move to a new organization and system, but also after missing an entire season due to a cancerous growth being removed from his head.
“It never gets old and this year is far more special to me just because of what I had to overcome in the last year and a half,” Williams said. “It was a mountain climb for me and being able to be recognized by my peers as one of the best in the game kind of gives me the confidence to think my game back to where it is supposed to be.”