Renauld Williams has patiently been waiting a year for the opportunity to shed his rookie chores with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.
Williams signed with the Roughriders as a free agent in September of 2007 and dressed for two games. He has emerged as a special-teams ace this season but still couldn’t crack the starting roster, especially with the solid play of Sean Lucas, Maurice Lloyd and Anton McKenzie.
An injury to the right shoulder of McKenzie early in the second quarter of last Saturday’s 27-21 loss to the B.C. Lions has created an opportunity for Williams to make his first professional start Sunday against the host Montreal Alouettes.
“They’ve been hazing me for the last year,” Williams said Friday after the Riders completed their final on-field preparations for Sunday’s game. “I’ve had to bring doughnuts for the home games and stuff like that. I’m looking forward to next year when someone else has to do it.”
Williams is in his second season with the Roughriders and his third as a professional. He played special teams with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers in 2005. Williams’s NFL career was cut short by injuries and ultimately led him to the Roughriders.
“I’ve been waiting for this since I started to play professional football,” said Williams. “Whether it happened early in my career or later it didn’t matter — as long as I got a chance to start at the professional level.”
The Riders were aware of the potential of Williams after his appearances in the NFL. Riders general manager Eric Tillman said he added Williams to the team’s negotiation list in September of 2007, a month after being hired as general manager. It took a year for Williams to make it to the CFL as a roster player and another to crack the starting lineup.
“With additional experience, Renauld should become a very good player in the CFL,” Tillman said of the 6-foot-0, 228-pound linebacker. “He has size, speed, strength, intelligence and he plays with tenaciousness. That last quality is one of the principal reasons Renauld was our special teams player-of-the-week three consecutive games before an ankle injury knocked him out of the lineup.”
Williams, 27, was leading the Riders with 13 special team tackles before missing the home-and-home series with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers because of a high ankle sprain. He returned to the roster for the 28-23 loss to the Lions on Sept. 13. He dressed last Saturday and took over when McKenzie was sidelined.
“That will calm me down a lot,” said Williams. “Every time you get out there, you’re a little jittery. I think I will be a little more relaxed this time.”
Williams is being called upon to fill a huge hole. McKenzie is enjoying an all-star season at weak-side linebacker and leads the CFL with 63 defensive tackles. McKenzie has also emerged as a leader on one of the league’s best defences.
“Anton filled big shoes with Reggie (Hunt) leaving,” said Williams. “He did a good job and it’s my chance to get in there and make plays. I just don’t want to let them down.”
Hunt had played on for six seasons before signing with the Alouettes as a free agent during the offseason. Williams said that he remains in contact with Hunt and is looking forward to Sunday’s encounter.
The starting trio of Lucas, Lloyd and McKenzie have developed a rapport that was evident on the field. The trio has a combined 173 tackles this season and is arguably the best in the league. Lucas and Lloyd have worked at establishing a similar relationship with Williams.
“I talk to him during the game and practices,” said Lloyd, who is tied for 10th in the CFL with 50 tackles. “That’s the same thing that I did with Anton. I would spend 30 minutes to an hour with just two of us watching film, talking about how we can do this or disguise that. Other than that, we just let him play football and make plays.”
Lucas doesn’t have any doubts about Williams fitting in on Sunday
“He’s been ready and working with the playbook all year,” said Lucas, who is fourth in the CFL with 61 tackles. “We won’t miss a beat with him in there. He’s athletic, fast and has the mentality about getting where you need to be. After that, it’s a matter of getting to the ball.”