TURNER – Much has changed for Tyrell Williams since he roamed the halls at Turner Elementary School as a fifth grader.
These days Williams is a standout wide receiver for the Los Angeles Chargers.
On Tuesday he was back at his old school, a guest of principal Dan Petersen, Williams’ track and field coach at Cascade High School.
Leafing through a 2002-2003 Turner Elementary School yearbook, Williams smiled when he saw his fifth-grade photo among fellow classmates.
“It’s just cool, especially coming back to where I went to school,” Williams said. “To be able to see old yearbooks and stuff, to see the kids go through the same cycle I went through, it’s cool. It’s fun.”
Williams was in town to visit family members, but made time to be part of an assembly at Turner Elementary.
Students in grades 1 through 5 learned there was a special guest waiting for them when they walked in the gymnasium.
“As soon as I knew I was like jumping around,” said fifth-grader Taylor Swift, a Williams fan. “Everybody was like, ‘calm down, Taylor.’”
Swift makes a point of trying to watch Chargers games on television “every Sunday” because her favorite player is on the team.
“I knew that he went to this school, so that was really cool,” Swift said. “I know he’s famous.”
Not all of the students were as familiar with Williams, but you would never have guessed it based on their enthusiastic response watching a video of Williams’ NFL highlights as he sat with them on the gym floor.
They provided Williams with engaging banter and it didn’t matter to him if they knew who he was.
“One girl was talking about her cat and how it’s allergic to fleas. I don’t know if she knew,” Williams said. “Some of them did. They were talking about their dad’s favorite teams and stuff. It’s kind of cool just to hang out with them.”
After the video, Williams answered a few questions from Petersen about his life, took part in a suggested touchdown celebration dance courtesy of a group of students, gave high-fives to the children as they left the gym, and signed autographs during lunch.
Williams hopes he left a message with students that will resonate.
“No matter where you’re from, the size of the school doesn’t really matter,” he said. “It’s just if you get an opportunity make the best of it.”
Williams blossomed in his second NFL season after signing with the San Diego Chargers as an undrafted free agent out of Western Oregon University in May of 2015.
Last season he led the Chargers with 69 receptions for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns and was a finalist for the VIZIO Top Value Performer, an award presented annually to the NFL player whose on-field performance most exceeds the value of their annual salary. Williams is entering the final year of a three-year, $1.575 million contract.
If Williams has another stellar season, he’ll likely receive a substantial raise. He would become a restricted free agent after the 2017 campaign.
“The money is obviously nice and it’s a big part of it, but I just love playing football,” Williams said. “I make plenty of money so I’m not worried about going out and making more. It’ll come.”
Petersen said Williams remains the same humble young man who was a three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track and field) when he was a sprinter at Cascade.
Williams now stands 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, but weighed only 160 pounds coming out of high school and was not recruited by major colleges. He went on to become WOU’s career leader in receptions.
Despite long odds, Williams made the most of his opportunity in San Diego. He played on special teams early in his rookie season, spent two months on the practice squad, and returned to the active roster for the last seven games. His first NFL reception went for an 80-yard touchdown.
“He’s the perfect example for our community kids of what it means to dream big,” Petersen said.
In January, the Chargers finalized a move from San Diego to the Los Angeles area after months of speculation. The Los Angeles Chargers will play the next two seasons at the StubHub Center in Carson, California, before moving to a new stadium in Inglewood for the 2019 season.
Williams would have preferred if the Chargers stayed in San Diego, but he’s not complaining.
As for his NFL future? Well, one excellent season has not made Williams feel like he’s arrived.
“It is crazy,” Williams said of his breakout season. “(But) I still feel like I have a lot to get better at.”
ghorowitz@StatesmanJournal.com, or Twitter.com/ghorowitz
Height/weight: 6-4, 205
Occupation: Wide receiver for the Los Angeles Chargers. Signed as an undrafted free agent in May of 2015.
High School: Cascade
College: Western Oregon University
2016 season: Had a team-high 69 receptions for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns, including three 100-yard games.
Of note: Williams’ first NFL catch went for an 80-yard touchdown against the Denver Broncos. It was the longest first catch by a player in franchise history. … Finished his college career at Western Oregon as the school’s career leader with 165 receptions, good for 2,792 yards and 21 TDs. … Was a three-time All-Great Northwest Conference selection.