Andre Williams did many things over the course of 13 games in 2013. He transformed into a human battering ram 355 times, for a total of 2,177 yards. Williams scored a plethora of touchdowns, finishing the year with 18. He lowered his shoulder and deployed a neck-realigning stiff-arm innumerable times, and he even flipped vertically over a defender once. Along the way to a Doak Walker Award, the 6-foot-0, 227-pound running back crushed so many defensive backs that they easily could have formed a mini conference of afflicted defenders, or at least a “Destroyed By Williams” support group.
There is one thing that Williams did not do all season, though, and with the NFL Draft looming in the distance on May 8, it’s slowly become the biggest question surrounding his game.
During the 2013 season, Williams did not catch a single pass.
Yet on Wednesday afternoon under the dim lights of the Alumni Stadium bubble at Boston College’s Pro Day, Williams went deep, Williams went wide, and Williams caught the ball over and over again.
“I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know where it was,” Williams said with a laugh, fruitlessly searching for the words to explain his old catching mentality. “I’m definitely in a more focused place now, and I know kind of what to do, and I just have to get more reps at it, get more experience at it so it’s more and more natural.”
Less than two months away from the NFL Draft, Williams is finding success in the air, and it started with a change in his head and fresh ideas from a new mentor: Dr. Bill Thierfelder, a sports psychologist and president of Belmont Abbey College.
“He told me a lot about what you need to be doing with your eyes and energy in your hands,” Williams said. “You need to meet the ball with energy. He said God is ever present, and when your mind is focused on the past or future, you’re hurting your performance because you can only really be in union with God when you’re thinking in the present, in the very moment that you’re acting.”
Continuing, Williams said that Thierfelder taught him that the secret to a high level of performance is being in the moment-reaching that fabled zone-and that the feeling of being in the zone is the product of being in union with God.
Williams has never been the most conventional player-whereas many athletes are always tight lipped and stuck knee deep in the familiar script, Williams has spoken openly about his philosophical memoir, called Johnny Manziel a “freaky guy” for wearing size 15 shoes, and critiqued 2014 Heisman winner Jameis Winston’s table manners. Given his somewhat unorthodox track record, it doesn’t come as the biggest surprise that Williams is taking an outside-the-box approach to improving his reception game.
Williams participated in two-hour sessions with Thierfelder, talking, catching Ping Pong balls with two fingers, practicing juggling, and engaging in various other little drills. For the most part, the activities were small and nothing too special. The important part was the way Williams carried them out.
“He wasn’t saying it’s really what you’re doing, it’s how you’re doing it,” Williams said. “Like I said, meeting the ball with energy and going through the ball, just putting your mental state in a different place-not being afraid of the ball. You want the ball, so you have to go get it.”
Williams was a believer in meditation before meeting Thierfelder, and the recently adopted strategy and outlook is paying off.
“I’m really proud of how I was able to perform today,” Williams said. “I ran a better 40, I caught the ball better than I did at the combine, so, you know, it was a great day for me.”
After stripping out of his No. 35 neon-green accented NFL Combine hoodie in favor of an “EXCELLED” t-shirt the same shade of maroon of his old No. 44 jersey, Williams caught pass after pass from his former quarterback Chase Rettig, his maroon and white Under Armour gloves flashing with each ball he hauled in.
For a guy who had 10 receptions throughout four years of college football, it looked pretty damn natural.