December 10, 2021

Williams Endured Windy Path To CFL Top Rookie

Hamilton, ONT– It wasn’t the smoothest path to greatness for Jordan Williams. As he collected the hardware for the CFL’s Most Outstanding Rookie on Friday night as part of Grey Cup festivities here in Hamilton, the Lions’ linebacker was certainly reflecting on everything he had to overcome to get here. Some of it was quite typical of the CFL football repertoire.

Following his solid college tenure at East Carolina came the harsh reality of not being able to catch on anywhere in the NFL. These are obstacles many players have to endure. The path for Williams was made more challenging by other factors as well. Born in Baltimore, Maryland to a single mother named Astra, a member of the United States military, Williams then led the army kid’s life of bouncing around. He lived in no less than nine states, including Hawaii, before he graduated high school.

Jordan Williams endured a windy, sometimes unpredictable path to the CFL Most Outstanding Rookie award. The linebacker takes influence from his mother.

That would be hard on any youngster trying to make friends and stand out in their craft. In Williams’ case, it was the goal of playing professional football. As he reflects on it all, his mother deserves all the credit in the world for supporting him in his dreams.

“I don’t even know how to explain it. She means so much to me. Every day I wake up she’s encouraging me with positive words and things of that nature,” explains Williams.

“When the CFL season got canceled last year I looked at her and was like, ‘Man, what am I going to do?’ She looked back at me and said, ‘you just have to go back out there and keep working. That’s it.’ She always has that positive mindset. With her at my side, nothing is impossible. I just love my mother for that. I wish her the best, she wishes me the best and we just ride off into the sunset together.”

Astra has served overseas in Kuwait, Iraq and Iran and currently holds down a regular position at the US Pentagon in Washington D.C. Her mother Esla immigrated to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago before attending nursing school in Toronto where Astra was born. That is what enabled Jordan to enter the 2020 CFL Draft and play as a National; something he didn’t know he was eligible for until attending an Ottawa REDBLACKS free agent camp in 2019…..

Jordan Williams endured a windy, sometimes unpredictable path to the CFL Most Outstanding Rookie award. The linebacker takes influence from his mother.

National Status Changed The Path

What followed was a head-turning performance at the 2020 Ontario Regional combine, which also wound up being the last league event before the pandemic put a halt to regular activity. That year’s virtual draft involved the Lions trading up to number one and this season, the move finally paid off.

Williams is the rightful winner for top rookie after leading all Lions with 92 defensive tackles, shattering the rookie record of 75 that was set by Mike O’Shea way back in 1993. He admitted he didn’t think this was in the cards as he finally reported to his first CFL camp this past July. After all, his only real post-college football experience was a San Francisco 49ers mini-camp appearance in 2018 before the life-changing visit to Ottawa altered the path significantly.

“It means the world to me. Coming into 2021 we had a short camp, a short season, guys coming out of college, guys coming from the NFL and they had me coming off the couch,” explains Williams.

Always a team guy first, he was super quick to credit some other important figures on the Lions’ defensive unit.

“Winning Outstanding Rookie is phenomenal. Being honoured with Bo is also very special. That’s my roommate; we talked late many nights about all of our team and individual goals. He wanted to be the Outstanding Canadian and me the Outstanding Rookie.

“He and TJ lee were great mentors to have in the locker room and both did a lot in terms of helping my development and transition to the Canadian game. TJ is the leader of our defence and he always picks you up when you’re down and when you’re up, he shoots you up even more. He goes into the post-game media conference and gives us all props. He always focuses on the positives and is a great person to have in the locker room.

“I also tip my hat to our coaches. Coach Campbell as well as our Linebackers coach Travis Brown and Ryan Phillips who played a big role in coaching up the defence, they did a great job of honing me in and getting me ready for the season.”

Jordan Williams

It wasn’t the most enjoyable rookie season when it came to wins and losses. At times he admitted it was a mental grind trying to help his teammates get out of the mid-season slump that ultimately sealed their playoff fate.

“The biggest challenge was that losing streak. When it’s raining every day in Vancouver, everything is gloomy,” chuckles Williams.

“Every day you still go out there to practice and keep motivated. We fought through it and got a nice W to end the season. That was rewarding.”

All of that leads to bigger aspirations….

Jordan Williams endured a windy, sometimes unpredictable path to the CFL Most Outstanding Rookie award. The linebacker takes influence from his mother.

Higher Goals For Next Year

Williams has no doubt enjoyed being here for the awards banquet and taking in all of the special Grey Cup festivities. It has also opened his eyes to 2022 and beyond where he’d love nothing more than to be here as a Grey Cup participant on the field.

“It definitely makes us hungry. The team goal is to get to the Grey Cup and we didn’t establish that,” Williams said.

“I know Bo and I are going to see first-hand the two teams this week and how into it they and their fans will be. We will just try to take it on the chin and come back hungrier for next year.”

And through it all, he will continue to be motivated by his mother’s encouragement and the fact she herself has dealt with some more dire situations in her line of work. Perhaps that’s what gave her the tools to raise her sons using tough love.

“The biggest thing was mental toughness,” Williams recalls.

“I remember being in second grade and playing in a flag football tournament. We were losing games all day long and they had a pizza party. I wanted to quit and not go out there. She looked at me crazy, grabbed her belt like she was going to hit me and said, ‘you better go out there and celebrate with your team!’

So, I went out there and had fun with my teammates. That moment told me to never quit. Whatever happens, happens and you just have to roll with it. My second-grade mindset(laughs).”

Stay tuned for some more wins and perhaps a few more pizza parties in the den next season. It would be a welcome addition to said path.

Matt Baker: