GREEN BAY — As Dexter Williams spoke on the phone Saturday, his mother, Cheryl, leaned forward on the couch next to him.
He was talking to his new team, the Green Bay Packers; her face was buried in her hands, obscuring the tears of joy streaming down her face.
Last fall, Cheryl had moved to South Bend, Ind., to help her son get back on track after a four-game suspension to start his senior season at Notre Dame. Now, she’d just witnessed him get drafted by the Packers in the sixth round of the NFL draft — and learned that she’ll be moving again.
“She will definitely be living up there in Green Bay,” Williams said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters after being picked. “My mom’s reaction, it was really indescribable because it was something she’s always wanted to be able to see. She always prayed for it, she always asked God to let her see this moment. Just to be there, to be with her on this moment is so special. It was just tears of joy for her because she knew that all the hard work that me and her have put has finally paid off.”
Take a look at the strengths, weaknesses and backgrounds of all 32 players taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft on Thursday night in…
In some ways, Williams allowed, it was a miracle that Cheryl lived to see Saturday. In 2006, she was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, an incurable autoimmune disease that affects the muscles and the nerves, causing muscle weakness that can become severe enough to interfere with breathing and swallowing. Last spring, she was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension, and doctors gave her three to five years to live.
“She was pronounced dead when I was in high school. So just to have her here for this moment, it means a lot,” Williams said. “She always wants me to fulfill my dream so once I got the chance and got that call today, it’s a moment that we will never forget it.”
Williams, who turned 22 in January, wouldn’t get into the specifics of why Notre Dame suspended him to start last season, and he insisted that his mom didn’t move to his off-campus apartment from their native Florida just because of his troubles.
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“She’s my guardian angel,” Williams said. “She’s my support. I just want to share these times with (her) as much as I can.”
The 5-foot-11, 212-pound Williams flashed plenty of big-play ability for the Irish and finished his senior season with 995 yards on 158 attempts (6.3-yards per carry) and 12 touchdowns while playing just nine games. He will have a chance to be the Packers’ third running back, behind Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.
He also thinks he’s a good fit for new coach Matt LaFleur’s outside zone running scheme — “I can see myself in that offense already,” Williams said — and the Packers agree.
“Very much his skill set fits what Matt wants to do in the run game,” general manager Brian Gutekunst said. “He’s had some dynamic moments at Notre Dame. A lot these guys have had some misstep along the way but we felt good about where he’s at in his progression.”
Standing pat at receiver
While some self-appointed draft gurus saw wide receiver as a clear need after the Packers parted ways with two of their longest-tenured wideouts over the past two offseasons — Jordy Nelson last year and Randall Cobb last month — Gutekunst clearly didn’t see it that way.
Gutekunst passed on a number of pass-catchers he could have taken during the three-day draft, and he said afterward that he feels good about the three receivers he took last year: Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Equanimeous St. Brown and J’Mon Moore, who had a combined 61 receptions as rookies last season. That threesome, along with former UW-Whitewater standout Jake Kumerow, will vie for playing time behind No. 1 receiver Davante Adams and veteran Geronimo Allison, who’s returning from season-ending surgery to repair a core muscle injury.
“You know, I’m really content with the three guys we drafted last year. I think they have huge upsides; I thought they took really good steps last year,” Gutekunst said. “Obviously (with) Geronimo coming back, he’s kind of a veteran guy stepping into that role, and I do like some of our guys that are kind of competing for some spots there as well. It’s not like we wouldn’t add one if we thought the right guy was there, but I like that group.”
Among the undrafted free agents the Packers came to terms with after the draft were two quarterbacks: Arizona State’s Manny Wilkins and Oklahoma State’s Taylor Cornelius. ... The Packers also signed Duke tight end Davis Koppenhaver to a free-agent deal, giving the team another young tight end. ... Other undrafted free-agent additions included Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Bolton, Iowa State wide receiver Matt Eaton and Baylor defensive end Greg Roberts. ... LaFleur said the rookie orientation camp will be next weekend and include Friday and Saturday practices. Those practices historically have been closed to the public. ... After trading his two fourth-round picks on Thursday to move up to take Savage, Gutekunst said he didn’t make any effort to trade up into the fourth round on Saturday morning. “The board was really strong and didn’t feel like we needed to move up so we kind of just stayed,” he said. ...
Jason Wilde covers the Packers for ESPN Wisconsin. Listen to him with former Packers and Badgers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher weekdays from 9-11 on “Wilde & Tausch” on your local ESPN station.