Tyrell Williams left WOU in 2015 to join the NFL, but his presence still is felt in multiple corners of the campus. The wide receiver for the now-Los Angeles Chargers remains in contact with his former trainer, Cori Metzgar, and has a few former teammates, who now are coaches at WOU, on speed dial.
The Turner native is still on track to graduate from WOU, and he’s not shy about his love for his alma mater. He’s given WOU plenty of shout-outs on social media and often mentions the university in interviews.
“I loved it at WOU,” he said during a phone interview in late January. “All the teachers get to know you personally and they help you out a lot. They made a big difference in helping me do well.”
These days, Williams is getting attention from sports reporters instead of college professors. His on-field performance during his second year with the Chargers turned heads and earned him some new fans. With 69 receptions for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns to his credit last season, Williams is just the 15th Charger to surpass the thousand-yard mark in a season. Still, he says he’s not looking past the next season, which will be the final year of his current three-year contract.
“I just want to play football,” he insists. “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but it took me a while to get here, and I just want to enjoy it as long as I can.”
It was a long road to the pros. Williams was a three-sport athlete at Cascade High School before joining his brother, RJ, on the WOU football team. He majored in exercise science and minored in sports leadership, loading up on courses during winter and spring terms to make up for taking fewer credits in the fall. He also ran for the WOU track team, specializing in the 200 meter sprint.
“When he started, he was so skinny,” said Director of Sports Performance Metzgar, who came to WOU in 2011. “I knew he had talent, but I didn’t know how much because he was so quiet. RJ was more outspoken while Tyrell just did his thing. I didn’t even know they were brothers the first year.”
Williams’ time at WOU was plagued with injuries. Metzgar said he rarely was able to do the same workouts as the rest of the football team because he was usually rehabbing after injury or surgery. Still, he didn’t give up, she said.
“It was frustrating for him,” she said. “He would just get healed and then get injured again. But during his junior year he started buckling down, getting stronger to help prevent more problems.”
In fact, he was injured when he tried out for the NFL at an event called Pro Day. (See photo at far right for WOU’s newest Pro Day hopeful, Andy Avgi ’16.) He had to travel to Oregon State University in order to try out for pro scouts because there is no Pro Day in small towns like Monmouth. Despite not being 100 percent healthy, Williams’ Pro Day performance stood out among the roughly two dozen candidates, Metzgar said. He blew away the competition in agility tests such as the vertical leap and the long jump and shone in the 40 meter sprint.
“It was a proud day for WOU football,” said Metzgar, who attended the Pro Day with Williams and joined him in the warmup area before the tests. “Pro Day showed that he was special.”
Williams went undrafted in 2015 but was signed as a free agent by the then-San Diego Chargers. He moved between the practice squad and the active roster, playing mostly on special teams. Finally, at the end of his rookie year, he got a chance at wide receiver. In the final regular-season game against the Denver Broncos, he caught an 80-yard pass for a touchdown. It was smoother sailing from there, as his sophomore season proved.
Many people at WOU knew he would go on to great things in professional sports. After all, he’d received first-team all-GNAC honors three times, set a school record with 165 catches for 2,792 yards and 21 touchdowns over four years and took the top spot in the 200 meters at the 2014 GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
“He worked his (butt) off,” said Metzgar, who received a text from Williams on the day he made the Chargers’ roster, thanking her for her support and training. “He has talent and the right body for the NFL. Plus he’s just a great person—humble and respectful with an even temperament.”
Williams credits part of his success to the fact that he’s always played with a chip on his shoulder. When he was in high school, he didn’t get a lot of attention from college recruiters despite his strong performances on the field. So he followed his brother to WOU—a mid-sized college that was close to home. Then, he couldn’t get any traction from NFL teams even after he’d made an impressive mark at WOU.
He declared for the draft, but his name wasn’t called. Still, he made the most of his opportunity with the Chargers, putting in the work to move from the practice squad to the 53-man roster and then fighting for a breakout second year.
“There will always be a lot of stuff I have to work on,” he said. “That won’t ever change, no matter how many years I go.”
He recently was one of five finalists for the VIZIO Top Value Performer, which goes to the NFL player who voters believe provides the biggest bang for their relatively small paycheck. Williams’ first contract as a professional player is worth $1.575 million.
None of it would have been possible if Williams hadn’t found his stride as a WOU Wolf. His 160-pound frame wasn’t the only thing that changed at WOU and in the years since.
“He’s a beast,” Metzgar said about the now-6-foot-4, 205 pound athlete. “It’s not just his size. It’s his perseverance and focus. His self-confidence has grown immensely. I think he’s really a credit to WOU and what we do here.”