The Williams boys

Gophers tight end Maxx Williams’ performance with the University is continuing a legacy his father left behind.

Jack Satzinger

Amid a mob of teammates, Maxx Williams stood on the field after the University of Minnesota football team’s 30-14 victory at the University of Michigan last Saturday. The victory gave him more than the Little Brown Jug rivalry trophy — he completed a family legacy.

Moments after his performance on the field ended, Williams couldn’t wait to find his father.

As Wolverines fans filed through the exits, Brian Williams hustled down the bleachers of the nation’s largest stadium to see his son celebrating on the field.

“Just the look in his eyes, you know, it’s really special,” Brian Williams said. “Just to see that look in his eyes … that will be put in the back of my head forever.”

In 1986, Brian Williams was in the same position as his son, knocking off Michigan to win the oldest rivalry trophy in college football. Brian Williams was an offensive lineman at Minnesota from 1986 to 1988 before a decade-long career with the NFL’s New York Giants.

“After the game,” Maxx Williams said, “when I won it, I gave him a hug. That was kind of the coolest part for me. Knowing that he was on that jug and now my legacy will be on that jug.”

After arguably the football program’s biggest victory in head coach Jerry Kill’s tenure, the Williams boys were celebrating together.

And between the duo’s football practices, morning workouts and nationally televised games, they’re pretty much inseparable.

Most Gophers fans may know Maxx Williams for his highlight-reel plays that appear on SportsCenter.

Yet Brian Williams’ favorite part of his son’s football games is when he makes a great block. After all, blocking has always been in Maxx Williams’ blood.

“It’s the name of the game. I’m a tight end; we have to block. I just go out there, just do what [the coaches] ask,” Maxx Williams said.

Finding his position

When he was born 20 years ago, Maxx Williams’ parents — Brian Williams and mother Rochele Williams — added an extra “x” to his name to be “unique,” his father said.

And while Maxx Williams plays the same sport as his father did at the University, he’s found a way to be unique by playing a different position.

But he wasn’t always a tight end.

Maxx Williams was a linebacker when he first started playing for Waconia High School as a sophomore, which followed an injury-plagued freshman season. 

By his junior season, then-head coach Pat Foley started experimenting with him at fullback and tight end. But after making one throw in a preseason practice, Maxx Williams was Waconia’s quarterback.

“Because he was so skilled at so many things … he was just too valuable as a skill player,” Foley said. “Sometimes you’ve got to have those big kids playing in spots where they can help you the most.”

Even in high school football, the father-son duo was together — Brian Williams was Waconia’s offensive line coach during most of Maxx Williams’ high school career.

But Brian Williams said he didn’t see his son as a natural fit under center.

“He was a terrible quarterback — let’s just get that straight,” he said. “We all laugh about it.”

But even though Maxx Williams spent the bulk of his high school career throwing passes, he caught one in an October game during his senior year — a play that foreshadowed the downfield weapon he would eventually become for the Gophers.

“We scored in the last play at Grand Rapids, where it was basically just kind of an alley-oop pass to him,” Foley said, “where he went up and just took the ball from a defensive back.”

Father-son workouts

Every day this summer, Maxx Williams and his father got up shortly after sunrise to bond.

They were together, doing everything from weightlifting to cardio — even engaging in friendly games of basketball.

And while the exercise helped Maxx Williams avoid a sophomore slump, it also strengthened his relationship with his father.

“Every day getting up, knowing I’m going to go lift with Dad, work out and get my run in — it’s just kind of that bonding experience,” Maxx Williams said.

It’s not hard to tell Brian Williams works out — his strength is noticeable by just shaking his hand.

And as the 48-year-old has aged, his kids have helped him learn how to do healthy lifts.

“My father played college football at Notre Dame,” Brian Williams said, “and [he] was drafted by the Chicago Bears. We had the same relationship growing up. I think we moved on to becoming friends more than just a father-son. … Maxx and I definitely are friends.”

Tunnel vision

Last Friday, the father-son duo sat in the stands at Orono High School to watch Maxx Williams’ alma mater Waconia lose 28-14.

In between chats with old Waconia friends who were walking past the pair, Maxx and Brian Williams studied the field and broke down each play.

They understand things that even avid football fans don’t see, like blocking assignments and technique.

And when Maxx Williams is on the field, those are the things Brian Williams focuses on.

“It’s fun because I can concentrate and watch him and understand what he’s doing. When he starts talking routes and stuff like that, he loses me. I’m like, ‘Maxx, whatever. Just tell me about your blocking.’ That’s the fun part, because I did it, [I] understand it.”

Even if fans aren’t enthralled with Maxx Williams’ blocking, his teammates are.

“He’s kind of underrated as a blocker because how athletic he is, but he really gets down with [defensive] ends,” senior running back David Cobb said. “He clears up the picture for me. He opens things up, and he’s very decisive.”

While the Williams boys notice just about everything on the football field, they put blinders on to tune out what people say about Maxx Williams off it.

“[He’s] definitely the best tight end in the Big Ten — hands down, hands down,” Cobb said.

And an NFL career seems inevitable for the Gophers’ acrobatic pass catcher.

Maxx Williams has a team-high 10 receptions for 161 receiving yards and three touchdowns.

And 10 of those targets came in Minnesota’s 30-7 loss at TCU last month, where Gophers redshirt sophomore quarterback Mitch Leidner struggled against TCU’s stout defense.

“You’re rolling out, you’re in trouble, you need to get rid of the ball, he’s a guy that can go up and get the football and come down with it,” Leidner said.

Maxx Williams’ hype continues to grow, whether it’s through catching a touchdown pass in his first college game, hurdling over defensive backs, bringing in a pass one-handed while blanketed by a defender, or — his dad’s favorite — pancaking an opposing defender with a block.

But Brian Williams once gave him advice to focus on the task at hand instead of thinking about what’s next. And beyond giving advice, Maxx Williams’ father is always there — whether it’s watching Gophers practice or going to all of his games.

“I just [have to] look ahead to what I can do today,” Maxx Williams said of his NFL prospects. “If the cards fall right, you know, I want to. It’s always a dream to play in the NFL, but I can’t look ahead.”

Maxx Williams could declare for the draft as early as this spring. It seems the only thing that could derail an NFL career is a catastrophic injury. He tweaked his knee in Minnesota’s bowl game last season and rested during spring practice.

“He’s been good since the day he started playing tight end. I mean, he’s just good,” Kill said. “You do a little history on his bloodline and it’s good, too. He’ll play at the next level someday if he stays healthy,”

Maxx Williams also missed Minnesota’s game against San Jose State in September with a calf injury. When asked about what it was like to miss a game, he choked on his post-practice protein shake and struggled to find words to express his frustration.

“It sucked,” he said.

But now things are looking up, and Maxx Williams has plenty of reasons to be confident in his abilities.

As the year’s first wave of cold weather rolled through Friday night, the Williams boys were together — bundled up in Gophers gear — watching the game they love.

But unless Maxx Williams plays for the Minnesota Vikings, someday the Williams boys won’t be together as much as the father-son combo would like.

“We talk about dreams and how to get there, but you can’t control tomorrow. You can only control today,” Brian Williams said.