Avery Williams’ path to Boise State was aided by an idea for a television show.
And considering how his Bronco career started, you couldn’t have written a better opening scene.
The 81-yard punt return touchdown on his very first play Saturday against Troy was the sort of moment thousands of kids dream about. Especially ones like him, barely recruited, having to come in as a walk-on and earn a scholarship.
“It was such a blessing,” Williams said. “I’ve felt so much love from my team, the fans. I know there are a lot of guys that were in a situation like mine that aren’t here, so I feel I owe it to them to do all I can.”
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[Five random questions with Avery Williams, at the bottom of this post]
Said coach Bryan Harsin: “First time he touches the ball, he has a chance to take it to the house — that’s pretty awesome.”
So, it begs the question: How the heck did this guy slip through the recruiting cracks?
A redshirt last season, Williams earned Special Teams Scout Player of the Year honors and was put on scholarship the first day of fall camp this year.
The 5-foot-9, 195-pound Pasadena, Calif., native didn’t have a scholarship offer coming out of JSerra High, and most interest was from lower-level schools. He was a versatile player but didn’t have an obvious position.
“Is he a tailback? Is he a nickel? Is he a corner?” Harsin said. “But he would jump into whatever drills on special teams just to be involved, and the rest is history.”
But before history was made, Williams had to put in some effort just to get noticed.
A guy who almost played for Boise State, a former walk-on himself, was the catalyst.
Scotty McKnight’s playing career came to an end in 2012 after spending two years with the New York Jets. A former Boise State commitment, he walked on at Colorado and left as the team’s all-time leader in receptions and touchdowns. A few months after he decided his playing career was over, he sold a concept on a television show based around his experiences as a college football player.
At CBS Studios, McKnight was paired with writer/producer Pam Veasey to develop the show, which was never produced.
“I’m sure she didn’t love some of the things in there since she had two boys hoping to play,” said McKnight, who later wrote a few episodes of “CSI: Cyber,” of which Veasey was an executive producer.
The youngest of Veasey’s boys was Avery Williams. McKnight’s father, Scott, was a defensive backs and special teams coach at JSerra. After beginning his high school playing career at St. Francis High, Williams transferred for his senior year.
“It didn’t take long to see that he was just a spectacular kid, an infectious personality,” McKnight said. “On that field, he was such a playmaker. Just a different animal. But what separated him was that he was a leader. He wanted to make the other guys better.”
But that didn’t catch the eyes of many college football coaches. As a senior, Williams rushed for 1,175 yards and 14 touchdowns and earned co-MVP honors in the Trinity League with current Washington running back Sean McGrew. It wasn’t like he was playing 8-man ball in Riggins like another former walk-on, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
“A lot of long nights, just wondering who was going to take that chance on me,” Williams said. “I thought once I was MVP, that was going to be it. But no FBS schools were interested, only a few FCS teams even called. I knew I’d give it my all wherever I went, and luckily I had a guy like Scotty.”
McKnight knew Williams could play at a high level, so he reached out to Boise State special teams coordinator Kent Riddle. More than a decade ago, Riddle helped recruit McKnight to Boise State and was on Colorado’s staff from 2006 to 2010 while McKnight played for the Buffaloes.
Williams said part of what made Boise State interested was his grades. The economics major’s brother, Mason, played two seasons at Penn and is redshirting this season at Duke. McKnight and Williams visited Boise State and Colorado, both extending walk-on opportunities. For Williams, “once I came here, I felt like every other player, not a walk-on — felt a family environment,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have made those calls or visited with him if I didn’t think he was going to capitalize on it,” McKnight said. “He made a big-boy decision, to have to earn a scholarship. Avery being Avery, he knew that was going to be at a place where he could thrive.”
Like a proud older brother, McKnight said Williams’ touchdown “gives me goosebumps thinking about it, knowing all the work he put in.”
As the season progresses, there may be more opportunities for big plays as Williams gets acclimated on defense as a nickel/cornerback. He was prolific in creating turnovers this spring. Defensive coordinator Andy Avalos said he has “one of the best attitudes in football that I’ve ever been around” and that his style brings smiles to the 100 other players in the locker room.
Williams certainly brought smiles to 31,581 people at Albertsons Stadium with that first touch of the ball.
“If there was a guy,” Riddle said, “that you thought: ‘This guy works so hard. He’s such a good kid. He does have athletic ability. Good things are going to happen for this guy.’ I think a lot of people would vote for him.”
Five questions with Avery Williams
If you could have any meal right now, what would it be?
“Boneless wings. I like Wingstop. I’ve made the drive to Meridian to get them before. If I could get those, and then a BBLT and a Santa Fe Ranch Salad from Corner Bakery, I’d be pretty happy.”
You win a contest: two weeks in Europe, all expenses paid, or 10 minutes on the moon. What do you pick?
“The moon, definitely. I mean, people go to Europe all the time, but there’s only been a couple that have ever been to the moon. Up there, you can look down on Europe, so that would be a crazy experience.”
What’s your favorite type of music?
“I’m a rap/hip-hop guy. I grew up listening to Ice Cube a lot, 50 Cent. My favorite right now is Rick Ross.”
Is a hotdog a sandwich?
“A hotdog is a hotdog. If it was a sandwich, people would call it that. No one calls it a hotdog sandwich.”
What’s something you enjoy to do in Boise?
“I really like to float the river. We don’t really have a river back home. I mean, we have the Los Angeles River, but you can’t exactly float that. The season was so short this year, it was only really while we were practicing, so hopefully I can go again next year.”
Boise State at
No. 20 Washington State
When: 8:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Martin Stadium (32,952, FieldTurf)
TV: ESPN (Mark Jones, Rod Gilmore, Quint Kessenich)
Radio: KBOI 670 AM/KTIK 93.1 FM (Bob Behler, Pete Cavender)
Records: BSU 1-0 (beat Troy 24-13); Washington State 1-0 (beat Montana State 31-0)
Series: Washington State leads 4-1 (Boise State won 31-28 last year in Boise)
Vegas line: Washington State by 10
Kickoff weather: High 60s, partly cloudy