By JASON WILDE
GREEN BAY – Tramon Williams laughed at the thought.
“Who would play me in ‘The Tramon Williams Story?’” the Green Bay Packers cornerback said Wednesday night, repeating the question to buy time for an answer. Eventually, Williams offered up two movie icons, Denzel Washington and Will Smith. Then, he laughed again.
“Denzel’s probably a little old right now to play me,” he said. “Will might have a chance.”
Whoever plays him, there’s no denying that Williams’ rags-to-riches – the riches being the four-year, $33 million contract extension he recently signed – story is Hollywood material. Even tough-guy coach Mike McCarthy would agree with that.
“It’s a great story. ... I am just so proud of him as an individual,” McCarthy said. “Tramon is that example that you point to. He has done everything that we have asked him to do from a professional standpoint. He has taken full advantage of it. He has earned every opportunity that was given to him and he has done something with it.
“I take a lot of pride in seeing a man like Tramon get paid and accomplish what he did financially this week. I feel very good about Tramon Williams and just the path that he has taken. I look forward to moving forward with him.”
(Our humble suggestion for the big-screen Williams: Anthony Mackie, who like Williams is a Louisiana native and starred in “The Hurt Locker” and “We Are Marshall.” We also suggest that former Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Mark Ciardi, now a producer who has produced sports films such as “Miracle,” “The Rookie” and “Invincible,” commission a script ASAP.)
Most Packers fans are familiar with Williams’ story with the Packers by now.
Goes undrafted. Is signed and cut by the Houston Texans. Goes for weekly workouts with various NFL teams until the Packers finally signed him to their practice squad on Nov. 29, 2006. Breaks up two passes on the first day of training camp 2007. Opens eyes during the annual Family Night Scrimmage. Makes the roster coming out of camp – only because the team keeps one extra defensive back than it normally does. Gets promoted to the nickel cornerback job for the final month of the 2007 season. Career takes off from there.
But his remarkable story begins well before that.
The film could open with Williams as an 18-year-old freshman at Louisiana Tech, sitting in the stands for a Bulldogs game. Say, against Boise State. Williams, enrolled at the school as a normal student, pursuing a degree in electrical engineering, watches the offenses go up-and-down the field. He watches the defensive backs and figures he couldn’t do much worse, and decides he’ll try out. Cut to the following spring, and Williams talking to coach Jack Bicknell Jr. about walking on.
And the most unbelievable thing about that scene? It’s 100 percent true.
“I’m at a game, wanted to check out how they were doing that year. So I went to the Boise (State) game, and it was a shootout. And they won,” Williams said, recalling the Bulldogs’ 48-42 victory on Nov. 3, 2001. “I was watching the corners play, and people were getting beat left and right and I was like, ‘I can go out and do better than that.’ I always thought I might walk on, I just didn’t when I first got there. But I saw the way those guys were getting beat, I was like, ‘I know this is a whole different level than high school, but I can do that.’ So I went out and did it.”
Or maybe the film could open with Williams playing high-school football at Assumption High School in Napoleonville, La., where he earns second-team all-state recognition as a senior, playing with future New York Giants running back and big-time recruit Brandon Jacobs. Even with schools recruiting Jacobs hard, Williams doesn’t get a second look from anyone – not from LSU, and not even from Division I-AA Nicholls State, a school in Thibodaux, La., only 20 miles away. Another true story.
“We tried to sell him to some small colleges and they just wouldn’t bite,” Assumption coach Don Torres said. “He’s one of the type of guys that just does what he’s got to do. He doesn’t stand out.
“Brandon’s emotional and flashy, and Tramon’s not the same way. He’s undercover, doing the right thing, making sure all the business is taken care of and playing even-keel all the time. Brandon’s emotional and Tramon is level-headed.”
Or maybe the film could open with Williams as a teenager, working his summer job – shoveling coal. He’d worked in a supermarket, but wasn’t making enough money, so he took another one. Another true story.
“Out there in the sun, sun beating on you, Louisiana weather, and out there, hard hat, work boots,” Williams recalled. “It's one of those deals where you've pretty much done everything in your life, worked tough jobs, to do what you love and that's football now. And it's easy."
At least, Williams has made it look easy this year. A starter from the first game while two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Al Harris tried to come back from the 2009 catastrophic knee injury that made Williams a starter late last season, Williams has developed into one of the game’s top cover men.
Four NFL scouts, interviewed last week, rated Williams as among the top 10 cover corners in the league, with three of them saying that Williams is “in the discussion” to be in the top 5. While all four agreed that the New York Jets’ Darrelle Revis and Oakland Raiders Nnamdi Asomugha would rank as the best cover men, after that, “it’s a matter of, ‘I like vanilla, I like chocolate, I like strawberry.’ It’s personal preference.” (Others in the conversation included Denver’s Champ Bailey and Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel, according to two of the scouts.)
“If he had ‘Revis’ or ‘Bailey’ or ‘Nnamdi’ on the back of his jersey, everybody would be saying, ‘He’s a great, great player,’” Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said of Williams, who enters Sunday’s game against the San Francisco 49ers with a team-high four interceptions. “But he’s Tramon Williams, a free agent guy that came from nowhere. But he’s playing at a level that’s higher than those guys.”
And he’s done so because he has worked tirelessly at his craft. His coaches challenged him during the offseason to become a better tackler, and he’s done just that. Now, the 5-foot-11, 191-pound Williams is more physical than ever. He has also taken lessons from veteran Charles Woodson – the former Heisman Trophy winner, six-time Pro Bowler and reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year – on how to watch film and pick up subtleties of opposing offenses. He put those lessons to use on his game-turning interception at Minnesota two weeks ago, jumping a slant route by Percy Harvin to pick off a Brett Favre pass on what would turn out to be the play of the game.
“He was blessed with a lot of God-given ability, but sometimes it takes individuals a little longer than others,” McCarthy said. “He is a testament to hard work. His work ethic is why he is where he is today.”
Where Williams goes from here, well, you’ll just have to wait … perhaps for the movie.
"It feels great. Not only for you, but for your family – your wife, your kids, everybody,” said Williams, whose wife, Shantrell, gave birth to son Tramon Jr. earlier this season. “It's always a good story to go out and tell people when someone does things the right way, you treat people the right way, you do everything pretty much the right way and people treat you (well) for it (in return). That's what the organization's done."
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.