Brian Williams played center for the Gophers football team before becoming a first-round draft pick of the New York Giants in 1989. Ed Olson also had a three-year career on the Gophers offensive line before graduating in 1982.
Those two proud fathers were standing next to each other at Indiana last Saturday, watching their sons play for the Gophers, when Maxx Williams caught the go-ahead touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter.
“I hugged Ed as hard as I’ve hugged anybody in a long time,” Brian Williams said. “I think I hurt his other knee, too.”
The celebration continued after the Gophers recovered a last-minute fumble to complete a 42-39 victory. Riding to the airport on the team bus, Maxx Williams got a call from his father, who told him, “Be ready.”
“I was like, ‘For what, Dad?’ And he hung up the phone,” Maxx Williams said. “About two minutes later, we hear horns going, people cheering out the window of these vans. I was like, ‘Wow.’ I just stood up and said, ‘Sorry everyone. It just might be my family. I’m sorry about that.’ ”
The Williams family is steeped in Gophers tradition, and the whole group has enjoyed the ride this year, watching Maxx thrive as a redshirt freshman for a team off to its best start since 2008, at 7-2.
Williams’ mother, Rochelle, was a four-year volleyball letter winner for the Gophers. Her brother, Ron Goetz, was a fullback and linebacker for the Gophers in the late 1980s.
The athletic lineage doesn’t stop there. Maxx Williams’ two grandfathers also played college football. Bob Williams started at quarterback at Notre Dame in the 1950s, and Ron Goetz Sr. had a brief stint at running back for the Gophers.
“I think [Maxx Williams is] an unbelievable player for the age he is, but he’s got a bloodline,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. “They’ve all been unbelievable. His mother was a great athlete. His daddy’s a great athlete. Her brother was a great athlete here, so Maxx doesn’t have any choice.
“It’s a great competitive family, and his future’s endless.”
The 6-4, 254-pound Williams ranks second on the Gophers to senior wide receiver Derrick Engel in receptions (15), receiving yards (251) and touchdown receptions (three).
Williams had a quiet two games against Northwestern and Nebraska before catching four passes for a career-high 78 yards, including the 50-yard touchdown, at Indiana.
“If I’m not catching balls, I’m not going to complain,” Williams said. “That means other people are catching the ball, or we’re making plays running. I’ll let other people make plays as long as we’re winning games.”
But like a lot of teams, the Gophers continue to look at their tight ends not as just blockers but as pass-catching weapons that can help win games.
“It’s a quarterback’s dream when you’ve got the big tight ends that can create some mismatches,” quarterback Philip Nelson said. “I think that’s something we really like to look for in our offense, trying to get Maxx matched up on a safety or cornerback where he’s bigger.
“He’s pretty fast and has some great hands. So Maxx is a matchup nightmare for them.”
Williams was a quarterback, linebacker and kicker at Waconia High School before coming to the Gophers. He’s still learning the intricacies of tight end, especially when it comes to blocking, and junior Drew Goodger has become his mentor.
In the running game, the Gophers tight ends view themselves as honorary members of the offensive line, a unit that includes the Olson brothers — senior left tackle Ed Olson and junior center Tommy Olson.
It’s been a fun season for the players, and the parents, too.
“Maxx was on the radio the other night, and he said, ‘Winning is very addictive,’ ” Brian Williams said. “And we agree.”