The trials and tribulations of D.J. Williams’ childhood are well documented. The Packers rookie grew up with an abusive father that sent his family fleeing for refuge from Texas to Arkansas.
Williams contemplated suicide, but once free of his father, was able to thrive and eventually develop into the nation’s best college tight end based upon his winning the John Mackey Award last season at the University of Arkansas.
His father is now behind bars, and Williams has the opportunity to make a living in the NFL after having been selected by the Packers in the fifth round of this past April’s draft.
To say that he had to overcome adversity as a child would be an understatement, which is why when he says he’s better off than the residents of Joplin, Mo. as they recover from a devastating tornado in late May, it gives you an idea of just how modest and down to earth D.J. Williams really is.
Williams recently traveled to nearby Joplin with the current University of Arkansas football team to volunteer in the clean-up efforts after the twister killed over 130 residents and left several more missing.
When asked whether he saw a little bit of himself in the residents of Joplin as they attempt to make progress in the wake of a horrific act of God, Williams said, “Not that bad. I mean, when I really say you can’t put it into words how devastating it was, you see it on the news, you see pictures on the Internet or whatever it may be, but when you’re in that town, you really are speechless.
“And so I don’t want to say my life is that bad. They basically had everything taken from them, and now they need help to get back on their feet.”
Williams had a hard difficult expressing the scene in the small Missouri town. The overturned cars and shards of wood from houses torn from their foundations that everyone has seen in the media simply blurred into a panorama of obliteration.
But at the same time, the young tight end was also encouraged by the outpouring of support coming from all corners of the United States.
“It was just an unbelievable sight to see,” said Williams. “You really can’t put it into words how bad it was. But unbelievable how much help, not just the people of Joplin or the surrounding states, but the whole country came out and supported them. It was an amazing sight to see.”
Williams will continue to overcome obstacles. Although they pale in comparison to uprooting an entire family to escape an abusive father or rising above the ruin left by a natural disaster, Williams now tries to navigate the uncertainties created by the NFL’s ongoing labor battle.
“This is the first time,” said Williams on Sunday of meeting his new teammates at the Donald Driver Celebrity Softball Game. “Dealing with the whole lockout business, us rookies are having a hard time figuring out exactly what to do.
“But it’s been fun coming out here meeting all the new guys, meeting the tight ends, most of the tight ends were here.”
The tight end position was well represented at Driver’s annual charity outing with Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless and Tom Crabtree all in attendance. But with the absence of tight ends coach Ben McAdoo––or any other coach for that matter––to guide them in a formal practice environment, Williams was left to mostly socializing among his teammates.
“Just talk, not too much about football,” said Williams. “When it comes time for that, that’s the talk then. But more just trying to figure out who they are, and it was a fun outing.”
For the time being, Williams is left to shuttling between Little Rock, Ark. where his home his located and Fayetteville, Ark. where the university is located and where he’s been working out.
And not until the owners and players can come to an agreement will he actually move to Green Bay.
“I guess when this lockout is over,” said Williams. “We’re really in the dark. We have no idea how the system works, what a playbook looks like, so it’s going to be an interesting transition once we finally get up here.”