Proven winner Williams affecting others

KAMLOOPS, B.C. — The approach taken by Keron Williams in the initial days after joining the Lions was no different than any other veteran player.

Roughly twice a week for the past month he met a few of his new teammates for an informal workout in Surrey, which would start with the participants sitting in a circle to stretch and talk shop. It was a typical feeling-out process, quiet and not flamboyant.

It was from that point where teammates began to become friends that a more measured calculation began to be taken by the newest member of the Lions defensive front.

There is a leadership attribute that comes naturally to the 25-year-old, one which could be extremely valuable to the CFL team. Williams was curious as to the reaction of his new teammates towards him, and began to work them as if he was their new coach.

“In a cone [agility] drill I said, ‘any cone you hit, give me 10 pushups’. It was crazy. Nobody hit the cone after that,” he related. “It was like, OK, maybe I can work with them. I’ve got to feel them out and they have to feel me out.”

Geroy Simon or another player of similar long tenure with the Lions might have more logically been suited to act in such a manner. Until Williams arrived here Saturday for the formal opening of training camp, he hadn’t even met all his new teammates.

But the vibes given off since the Lions acted with uncommon quickness to make Williams arguably their biggest free-agent signing in five years may be exactly what his new team could use.

The trick once camp begins in earnest today is whether or not the established leadership on the Lions can find room for a newcomer who basically admits he wants to audition for membership.

The Lions were looking for a quicker defensive end in the offseason to maintain some pass-rush dominance that has been weathered by the constant loss of NFL defections. Williams, it would seem, was looking for a team to lead, and may have found one at just the right time.

“The thing that helps you win is everybody being on the same track. Sometimes coaches are able to deliver that, but not everybody can reach everybody,” said Williams. “That’s where leadership steps up.”

“I’m not saying I’m better than [other players]. But there’s certain steps and progressions you have to take in order to make your club physical and dominant. I take that mantra on every game. I notice that people gravitate to it; I don’t know what it is, because it is a gift. You have to have no fear; the way you walk, play the game and the way you carry yourself.”

It is no coincidence that Williams won a Grey Cup last year, and the Montreal Alouettes thought enough of him and fellow new Lions teammate Davis Sanchez to fly the pair to receive their rings at a private ceremony Friday in Montreal.

Sanchez, a 36-year-old from North Delta returning home with two rings from his nine-year CFL career, said he will bring a more understated approach towards leadership with his new team.

Williams, perhaps hearing it was Simon who said during the offseason his team lacked veteran leadership last year, will do it another way if he can.

Acquiring a player with Williams’ speed off the line a day after the free-agent signing period opened Feb. 16 looked good on Lions coach/GM Wally Buono, who nearly had the league all-star last year with his first offer.

In truth, the Lions owe the minimum two-year deal to the future Mrs. Lexi Williams, a Vancouver restaurant manager who met her fiance during an Als road trip, plus a willingness to engage in new pursuits.

Playing the short side of the defensive front is a change on the field. With the Calgary Stampeders, who signed him to his first CFL contract in 2006, Williams was known for his work on the piano and as a team barber. He majored in graphic design at the University of Massachusetts and is building a business during his spare time making highlight video tapes for college prospects.

The easy path, especially for a player coming off a season in which his former team pounded his new one on the way to a title, would be to simply flash his Grey Cup ring to gain acceptance. The Als have a lot of what the Lions need. And neither Sanchez nor Williams are hesitant to discuss comparisons to the culture set by Montreal’s Marc Trestman, CFL coach of the year last season.

Those who know Williams, however, say he will not simply let his ring do his talking.

“I still felt I had to earn my leadership and Keron will too,” said linebacker and former UMass teammate Anton McKenzie, another outsider last year upon joining the Lions with a 2007 Grey Cup ring who ended the season as a defensive leader.

“He has aspirations to do big things in this league.”

Getting some of his new teammates to buy into something as innocuous as a cone drill was a good place to start with the Lions.

“[Als line coach] Mike Sinclair once said ‘great players will do things that not everybody embraces, but if you keep doing it more than likely they’ll gravitate to it’,” Williams said.

“My skin has already gotten real thick. [Sanchez] has been in the [Als] room when I had to stand up and shut some grown men up even though they were older than me. There comes a point where a man has got to lead men. If you want to be great this is what you got to do.”

If the Lions choose to follow, it would definitely seem they have another leader for the season ahead.


Advocating for football prospects one story at a time.

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