OAKLAND -- Tyrell Williams agreed to terms on a four-year contract with the Raiders this offseason, an exciting moment that initially existed only in the abstract.
Formally signing it brought about a emotional, unexpected reality check.
He was joining a Raiders franchise steeped in tradition he knew all too well, and that meant something to the Williams family.
Tyrell’s father Ray Williams is Oakland born and bred, a former Oakland Tech and Laney College cornerback. He is a proud, card-carrying citizen of Raider Nation who told his children all about Lester Hayes and Mike Haynes and George Atkinson, about Kenny Stabler and Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff.
That isn’t why Tyrell Williams chose the Silver and Black. The money was right. So was the scheme fit and fellow skill players and the quarterback.
Tyrell thought it cool how the stars aligned, but didn’t realize how much playing in here would mean until he showed up to sign his contract.
That’s when childhood memories came flooding back.
“I have been out to Oakland a bunch of times visiting my grandmother’s house every summer,” Williams said. “When I signed, I went driving by that house, which is 15 minutes away from the facility, and saw places where I used to play with my cousins. It just made me feel at home. I’m not from Oakland, but this place is familiar and important to me. It’s like a second home, and it will be so great to play in front of my family. It has been awesome.”
Williams isn’t expected to play in Saturday’s preseason opener against the L.A. Rams, but his second-home debut will come soon enough.
Ray Williams already can’t wait for that day, the moment he sees his son run onto the Oakland Coliseum turf wearing his favorite colors. The time leading up to that day has been something special, one that has reinforced a strong bond between father and son.
Ray Williams has been in Napa most of training camp, rocking an all-access pass that allows him to roam the practice field and experience Tyrell’s first Napa summer up close and personal.
“It’s so surreal,” Ray Williams said. “I don’t take a single second for granted. I am loving this whole experience, and seeing how well Tyrell is doing. I pinch myself every single day seeing my son playing for the Silver and Black. It’s incredible.”
Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams (left from center) and father Ray Williams (center) poses with his family in Napa. (Photo courtesy of Williams family)
Tyrell is fitting in well with head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Derek Carr. He’s proving far more than a big-bodied deep threat. He has deceptive sprinter’s speed using long, effortless strides, and has been proficient creating quick separation on short and intermediate routes. He has been the alpha receiver with Antonio Brown sidelined, and will be a major part of this Raiders attack.
Ray Williams believes the Raiders are getting Tyrell’s best, and he should know. He coached Tyrell and his older brother R.J. in youth football and a Cascade High school just outside Salem, Ore. He has seen Williams evolve from youth quarterback to standout high school and college receiver. And, even now that Tyrell’s ability rivals the NFL’s top tier, Ray Williams still watches his son play through a coaches lens.
“I just can’t help myself,” Ray Williams said. “When he’s out there and I’m pulling for him to succeed, I still see the game that way. I’m critiquing and watching and taking mental notes. And, playing defensive back, I think about how he’s being covered from the other side.”
Ray brings a defensive back’s perspective and a coaches’ eye to Tyrell's work, but he also knows when being a supportive dad is most important.
Williams is an established NFL player now, but he entered the league as an undrafted free agent with the Chargers out of small-school Western Oregon University. There was no guarantee Williams would make the 53-man roster in San Diego, and the uncertainty can wear on anyone trying to realize a dream.
“My dad has always come to my training camps,” Tyrell said. “It was really helpful to me as a rookie, to have somebody there when things aren’t really going your way. That really helps you out.”
Ray was there for so many of important talks during that 2015 training camp, and knew how hard Tyrell fought to make the team despite coming in without draft status and pedigree. That’s why one phone call made this grown man cry.
“We were headed to a wedding in Medford, Ore.,” Ray Williams said. “We were at the hotel and I got a call in the afternoon, and he said, ‘Dad, I’m on the 53.” I just went crazy. You could’ve heard me through the entire hotel. I was just losing my mind. It was the best, best feeling.”
Tyrell credits his father, and his older brother and former teammate R.J. – the brothers played two years together in high school and college -- for pushing him to be his best, work hard and realize vast potential.
Tyrell Williams (left), Ray Williams (center) and R.J. Williams (second from right) poses with friends and family during his college days (Photo courtesy of Williams family)
That helped Williams through a rookie camp’s anxiety, and was the foundation upon which he has become an established and respected NFL receiver.
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Williams believes this season will be his best, and that he’ll help bring his father’s favorite team back to prominence. The opportunity to do so in his second home of Oakland, is one neither father nor son will take for granted.
“Each year he has gotten better and better, and now he’s ready to play a big role for the Raiders,” Ray Williams said. “I think this is going to be an amazing year.”