Charles Williams: Path To The NFL Draft
By Simon Carroll
In the NFL, they like to say ‘speed kills’. And for draft prospects, you’ve either got it, or you don’t. You can coach a man how to catch, how to tackle, and how to study opponents. You can even improve footwork to maximise explosiveness in and out of breaks, or off the line of scrimmage. But when it comes down to it, some guys are simply faster than others. In essence, you can’t teach speed.
As such, elite speed is a rare commodity, and something NFL scouts crave when evaluating talent. UNLV running back Charles Williams might not get the attention other running backs in this draft class enjoy, but not many will keep up with the former 200m state sprint champion. He sits down with Simon Carroll to discuss football, family, and his path to the NFL Draft:
"In The Secondary On Every Play"
Charles Williams first stepped on a football field in the fourth grade. Growing up in Fresno, California, his father put some pads on him at the age of nine and set him on a road that would largely define his life to this point. It feels a little nostalgic for Williams as he describes his early memories of the sport:
“I fell in love with it immediately. As soon as I started playing it I loved it. I actually liked the defensive side more as I was growing up, I was playing a lot of corner. As a defender you kind of control the game – if you don’t let the other team score, you win. So I played both offense & defense until my junior year of high school where it kind of became apparent that running back was the way forward for me.”
It would prove to be a smart decision. But Williams’ ascendency to record-setting running back didn’t come easy. His early career at Bullard High School was restrained by concerns over his size:
“I was pretty small in my early years of high school. I was 140, 150lbs my sophomore year, so I didn’t go to Varsity right away. I ended up playing Junior Varsity that year. I had been running track since sixth grade, so I had the speed. But I guess I started to get the training on the mechanics that I needed. Things started turning around in my junior year; that speed was definitely a factor, because not many others had run track like I had, and didn’t take it’s effect seriously. You could see the separation I had immediately, I was basically in the secondary on every play. And I think for my senior year, it’s fair to say I really exploded onto the scene. Nobody could catch me. You either had to have a good angle on me, or a head start.”
He wasn’t kidding. In his final season at Bullard, Williams dominated. His 3,580 career rushing yards ranked second in the high school’s history, and a huge 2,142 of them came as a senior (60%). Similarly, 28 of his record-equalling 48 career touchdowns came in that season too. Not only that, but Williams was amazingly still getting faster as his body developed, cutting his 100m time down from 10.8 seconds as a junior to 10.5 seconds as a senior. Speed and production like that brings interest, and it wasn’t long before Williams was receiving scholarship offers…
Becoming A Rebel
Charles Williams enjoyed interest from a host of college programs thanks to his high school exploits. As a three star recruit, he received an offer from power 5 school Washington State, as well as Wyoming, UTEP, Eastern Washington, Idaho and of course UNLV. Rather than be seduced by the PAC-12, Williams decided to head to the bright lights of Las Vegas and become a Rebel. As he explains, there are a lot of factors that go into choosing where to continue your education:
“Most schools who recruited me viewed me as an ‘athlete’, a guy who could potentially play anywhere on the field, even defense. By this point I really wanted to concentrate on being a running back. UNLV, yeah they’re obviously close to me (90 minute drive away), but they also came with a designed, detailed plan for me. They wanted me to play running back, which is what I needed to hear; I wanted to make a position my own and become elite at it, rather than be moved around and shoot back and forth. The UNLV staff just showed so much love to me, there was nowhere else I wanted to be.”
I ask Williams if he was disappointed that his home town team Fresno State never offered him a scholarship. Whilst he understood the nature of the recruiting game, it’s fair to say he turned that rejection into motivation:
“That was really a coaching situation. The coaches there didn’t really seem to like my game style or feel I fit their scheme. The head coach wanted me to come play slot receiver for him as a walk on, which honestly I felt was a little disrespectful. Fresno State have done a whole lot better recruiting local talent recently than they did back then; there’s not a whole lot to do in Fresno and you need a resilient, football-orientated mindset, which I guess not all long-distant recruits necessarily understand. I hold nothing against the program at all, it’s a great program, and it’s doing well with local talent now. But when I went back there with UNLV as a freshman, you best believe I went for 158 yards and a touchdown.”
Setting The Standard
That Fresno State game wasn’t a one-off, as Charles Williams wastes no time making an instant impact at UNLV. He sees plenty of game time and sets the freshman record for rushing, rolling for 770 yards.
“The coaches did a great job of introducing me to the playbook early. Most of the learning is going to be on the mental aspect as a freshman, so I handled that pretty good. But they definitely made me work for it, which was something I really appreciated. My running back coach Jamie Christian, he told me “I’m gonna throw you into the fire, and if you don’t do well – that’s on you.” He obviously taught me a whole lot, but made me understand that I needed to know what to do outside of that, when I’m on the field and making decisions. So I took that as a challenge, had my head in the playbook every night. My roommate used to laugh at me, tell me I don’t do anything but football! But I just wanted to get ahead. And the satisfaction of getting it right on the field built my confidence. I really appreciated Coach Christian making me work for it.”
Coach Christian played a big role in Williams’ early career, being the coach who recruited him and made him feel wanted, before lighting the fire in him as a freshman and helping him build the foundations for future success. But there would be a major bump in the road before Charles would achieve all he did in Las Vegas.
"One Of The Worst Mistakes In My Life"
Entering 2017 as a sophomore, Williams was ready to set the world alight. But a lesson learned in the cruellest of ways would define his second year at UNLV:
“It was probably one of the worst mistakes in my life. We played Howard in the season opener, and I wasn’t playing to my full potential. I guess you could say I was lackadaisical. I took our opponent lightly, I thought I could do whatever I wanted, and I wouldn’t say I wasn’t playing hard, but I wasn’t running correctly and I ended up breaking my foot and tearing my medial ligament in my ankle. Honestly, to this day I think about it. I could have saved myself a lot of time, and probably cost myself a lot of money too just going through this entire experience. So now I tell kids all the time ‘don’t think you’re too cool to be doing the things you’re supposed to do, and think about your future’. It was the worst injury of my career, and to be honest I’m still trying to move on from it.”
Williams must mean move on from it mentally; you can tell he holds some disappointment in himself, despite there being no guarantees of an injury-free career in football regardless of how detailed you play each snap. But there’s no doubt it’s a lesson learned, and the true character of someone is how you bounce back from such adversity. After rehabbing the rest of the season, and using 2018 to be gradually reintroduced into the offense, Williams delivers a career to be truly proud of. In his final three seasons at UNLV, the speedster records more than 3,000 yards and 33 touchdowns.
All of this during a challenging period for the team as new head coach Marcos Arroyo implements his scheme, and the team also moves to Allegiant Stadium, home of the Raiders. According to Charles, just two wins in the final two years there wasn’t indicative of how the team performed:
“It wasn’t really a struggle. But there were at least seven or eight games last season that came down to one, two, maybe three plays. Eastern Washington, lost by 2. Fresno State, lost by 8. UTSA lost by one touchdown, San Diego State, lost by 7. So you gotta understand that every play counts and it hurts. But when you finally win, like we did with those two consecutive games in a row, it validates all the hard work that we’d put in, that it was actually working. We just gotta execute.”
The Chuck Wagon
Williams didn’t want to dwell on the team’s record the last two years, as he looks ahead to more opportunities. But when he looks back at his UNLV career, he’ll be proud to remember that he leaves school with the most rushing yards in program history. Despite that, it wasn’t the first thing he mentioned when asked what his greatest achievement was at UNLV:
“Getting my degree. I studied Journalism & Media Studies. I finished it in 2020 in the first stages of COVID. And I can honeslty say that getting that degree, and overcoming all the hurdles and obstacles, it was difficult. There was a lot of stuff you have to do to graduate, and a lot of it is supposed to be done in person. With the pandemic & everything, to get that done and out of the way, and handle it how I did, was very satisfying. Succeeding on the field, not that it’s easy, but all that hard work will definitely pay off eventually. But not everyone finishes school. That’s definitely my biggest achievement.
One other thing that Williams did receive from UNLV was a nickname, and not one he’s particularly fond of either. But as is the way with most unwanted monikers, it seems to have stuck. I ask him where the legend of the ‘Chuck Wagon’ originated:
“Oh not this ‘Chuck Wagon’ thing again! Chuck, Chuck is fine. I just don’t like the Wagon part. Makes me feel like I’m fat or something! Mark Wallington, our Senior Assistant Athletics Director, he’s in charge of all the interviews, media – he came up with the name. Told me all the great running backs get a nickname here, it’s tradition. So he called me The Chuck Wagon, and kinda ran with it. And it stuck! Honestly, it’s not that bad of a nickname, but it’s all the stuff that comes with it. You can just call me Chuck.”
Some college prospects like to talk about influential people in their life. Parents are a popular choice, former coaches and teammates come up often too. For Charles Williams, there is one person in his life that fuels him to become the best he can be on a daily basis; his eleven-month old daughter, Kamiyah:
“She’s my everything. When she wakes up in the morning I swear she looks at me like ‘Yeah – you’re about to leave huh? I’m gonna give you thirty minutes of hell before you go!’ But she’s my inspiration. Sometimes, when you can’t get those reps out, or it’s fourth and goal and you need a touchdown, I remember I’m doing it for her and it spurs me on. I want her to have the best life possible, an easy life whereby she can do or be whatever she wants. She’ll be able to count on me – if she wants something I can get it for her, look after her when she needs it, be there on cloudy days – it’s all for her. She’s starting to walk now, so I’m waiting for her to be fully functional so I can have her grab me some juice.”
The fun side to Charles Williams comes out frequently during the interview, be it making jokes about his daughter bringing him refreshments, or laughing at his nickname, or suggesting the whole UNLV football budget went towards their cool uniforms. His smile is infectious, yet behind it there’s a real determination to take the opportunity football has blessed him with and make something from it. From being considered undersized, to being snubbed by his hometown team, to overcoming injury, Williams has been able to find the motivation to succeed. Being able to give his daughter an environment to grow and thrive is the biggest inspiration of them all, and stands him in good stead as he embarks upon the next leg of the journey: preparing for the NFL Draft.
All Eyes On The NFL Draft
Charles Williams’ college career was impressive enough to earn him an invite to the Hula Bowl, one of the prestigious All-Star games that come in the late January/early February portion of the draft process. Despite the name, Williams didn’t arrive in Orlando looking to get some well earned R&R. If anything, the running back dazzled in the Florida sunshine:
“It seemed like something of a vacation for us, but really it was all business. You’re doing a lot of testing, getting measured, talking to a lot of scouts, and also learning how to be a professional. You want to portray yourself in the best light, say the right things and just be honest. Then the practices come and it’s all of the same things you’ve been doing, but there’s a little more attention on you now, and you’ve gotta show out. And throughout the week I think I did that.”
“And then in the game, it was kinda fun actually. Nobody tried to do too much, but we were still playing hard because there’s a lot on the line. You create bonds with a lot of guys you never thought you’d be playing with or against, and I really appreciated being a part of it. If I could, I’d love to do it all again.”
In every stage of this interview I bring up moments of success for Williams, be it the records set or the performances where he impressed. He acknowledges them but is far too humble to elaborate on them, and the Hula Bowl is another example of his modesty. Anyone who watched the showcase event this year will have pencilled Williams as one of the stars of the game, turning heads with a spectacular 45 yard run in the second quarter. Charles prefers to talk about the opportunity and friendships made, but you can still chalk it up as a win as he looks to attract the attentions of the NFL.
From Las Vegas To Las Vegas
Charles Williams brings a hell of a lot to the table as an NFL Draft prospect. Scouts will drool over his speed, but that’s just one attribute of his multi-faceted skillset; Williams is a weapon in the passing game, a relentless blocker, and most impressively is a special teams fanatic. The first prospect of all my interviews to mention the oft-ignored third aspect of the game, Williams speaks passionately about how the 49ers beat the Packers in this year’s playoffs by being better on special teams. In his own words, “It takes all three phases to get that dub, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win”.
Williams knows he’s far from the complete running back. He acknowledges there are aspects to his game he will continue to work on, and relishes the possibility that he can do just that with some NFL coaching. As he continues to train in advance of UNLV’s pro day, you get the impression that despite how good he was in college, there’s a whole lot more to come at the next level. Understanding the opportunity that the NFL Draft in Las Vegas offers, Williams takes nothing for granted:
“Hearing my name called would mean a hell of a lot, because it’s a dream that a lot of kids have but not many have the opportunity to realise. So to get there makes you part of the 1%, but it means nothing – the journey has just begun. So enjoy the moment, embrace it with the family, then get to work.”
Speed, work ethic, motivation. The Chuck Wagon is coming to terrorise an NFL defense near you.
PREVIOUSLY THE FOUNDER OF NFL DRAFT UK, SIMON HAS BEEN COVERING COLLEGE FOOTBALL AND THE NFL DRAFT SINCE 2009. BASED IN MANCHESTER, SIMON IS ALSO CO-CREATOR & WEEKLY GUEST OF THE COLLAPSING POCKET PODCAST.
A huge thank you to Charles for taking the time to talk to us. Everyone at The Touchown wishes him well in his future career.