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For Chris Williamson, switch to defensive back paid big dividends

Move from receiver leads to chance in NFL with Giants

NCAA Football: Illinois at Minnesota
Chris Williamson
Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Williamson was a good high school wide receiver, a three-star recruit who could have likely have gone on to be a decent collegiate player at that position.

There was, though, a voice in his ear telling him there was a better way. Williamson began training with Ray Buchanon, a 12-year NFL veteran cornerback, an an eighth-grader. He had cross trained with Buchanon at cornerback, and Buchanon spent years encouraging him to switch sides of the ball.

Williamson finally gave in to Buchanon’s urging as a high school senior, trying out the position.

“The move from wide receiver to defensive back honestly came from Ray Buchanon. I met him in the summer of eighth grade when I was training. Me and him have had an extremely close relationship up until this day. He still mentors me and I train with him every time I’m home. I was always playing receiver and I was a six-foot receiver. You can find a lot of six-foot receivers, but I was kind of a bigger defensive back. The one nugget that Ray always put in my head was you’re an average size receiver, but you’re a big defensive back that can move. There’s not too many guys who are big and can move that get paid at the next level,” Williamson said during a Wednesday videoconference. “He was always throwing that nugget in my head. My senior year of high school was the first year I had played defensive back. I had always been training with him for defensive back, but I never truly played it in a high school game. I definitely give the credit for me making that move to Ray Buchanon.”

That led Williamson to Florida, where he played for two seasons but thanks to injuries and a horde of talent found himself without a great opportunity. He transferred to Minnesota for his final two seasons, starting nine games in 2019.

Now, he is an NFL player, selected 247th overall by the Giants.

“To have my dream finally come true, it’s been a huge blessing. It still hasn’t truly hit me yet, just because I’ve been home. I’ve been around my family and stuff like that, but it still hasn’t truly hit me all the way,” Williamson said. “ So, I’m still letting it hit me day by day. It was a good experience. I was with my dad and my brother at the time when I found out. Just to see the excitement on their faces, they know I was excited as well too. I know they were happy for me as well because it’s been a lifelong dream of mine to hear my name called in the NFL. To finally have my name called, it was just like a huge weight off my shoulders and I feel extremely humbled and blessed by the experience.”

Under new head coach Joe Judge and defensive coordinator Patrick Graham the Giants have been emphasizing positional flexibility as they build a defensive roster. They believe that the 6-foot, 205-pound Williamson can offer that.

“This is a guy who’s going to have some combination corner to safety. We call it the ‘star’ position, that nickel position as well,” Judge said of Williamson. “He’ll bring some position flexibility in the defensive backfield. He’s got a good size and speed combination. We look for him to compete at multiple positions this year.”

Williamson said he practiced at safety, especially during his time at Florida, but has not game action at that spot.

“The one thing a lot of teams talked to me about is my versatility. I have the ability to play multiple positions in the back end. Even with the Giants, they kind of talked about me doing the same thing of being able to do those multiple positions. But every team I talked to kind of had that same idea for me. I’d be a guy who’d kind of be like a Swiss Army Knife and can do multiple things on the back end.”

Williamson and Darius Slayton

During his call with New York media Wiliamson told a great story about a competitive relationship he has had with Giants wide receiver Darius Slayton going back to their childhoods on different youth football teams.

Here is the whole story in Williamson’s words. And yes, you can be certain Slayton is going to be asked to explain this when media finally gets to talk to him this summer.

“Man, me and Darius’ relationship, it goes back extremely far. I’ve known Darius ... I mean we grew up playing football against each other, we grew up running track against each other. The biggest memory me and him have of each other is playing each other in our 9-year-old football league, the Gwinnett Football League, which is one of the top youth football leagues in Georgia.

“Like I was talking about earlier, we played them in the regular season and they beat us pretty bad. It was like 34-0. I know at the time they got the mercy rule as the youth football league, so they mercy ruled us. They actually beat us pretty good. Then later on in the season we got the chance to play them again in the 9-year-old football championship for the Gwinnett Football League.

“The funny thing about it, his team hadn’t lost a game in two to three years, so they were the best team in the league. So, they pulled up to the championship game in all white stretched-out Hummer limousines. These are 9-year-old kids now, pulling up in limousines. They were expecting to win. We played the game and we actually won the game, 14-0, so we came out on top. I mean I know it had to be kind of embarrassing pulling up in a limousine and losing. But you know, it’s something I still hold over Darius to this day.”