Some athletes have good bloodlines. For Gophers tight end Maxx Williams, it’s more like a pipeline.
His parents were both Gophers athletes. Rochele Williams (nee Goetz) was a four-year volleyball letter-winner. Brian Williams played three seasons with the Gophers before playing center for the New York Giants from 1989 to ’99.
Brian’s father, Bob Williams, was a starting quarterback at Notre Dame in the 1950s. Rochele’s father, Ron Goetz, had a brief stint as a running back for the Gophers, and her brother, also named Ron Goetz, was a fullback and linebacker at Minnesota in the late 1980s.
But it’s not just this lineage that has Gophers coaches giddy about Maxx Williams’ potential. Since arriving at the university, the 6-4 redshirt freshman has grown from about 225 pounds to 254.
“He’s a great young man, and right now, offensively, he’s one of our better players,” Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. “If he wouldn’t have gotten hurt last year [with a bruised sternum], he probably wouldn’t have redshirted, but it’s worked out good. We’ve still got him for four years.”
Williams is a redheaded bundle of energy and modest Minnesota charm. He’s proud of his family’s history, but he doesn’t carry himself as if this entitles him to anything.
When Brian Williams played for the Giants, the family bounced between Minnesota and New York before settling down in Rochele’s hometown of Waconia.
“I guess when he retired, they figured Waconia was a better place to raise kids,” Maxx Williams said.
Maxx Williams played several positions — including quarterback, linebacker and kicker — at Waconia High School.
“I wasn’t much of a quarterback,” he said. “I liked to run the ball.”
His teams kept running into Philip Nelson’s Mankato West juggernaut in the section playoffs. Williams and Nelson became friends, knowing they were headed to the university together.
But that didn’t stop Williams from trying to drill Nelson from his middle linebacker position.
“I was trying to take him out,” Williams said. “But we were still friends. I’d help him up after plays. You’ve got to have fun. Phil’s a heck of an athlete.”
Williams had three catches for 54 yards in this year’s spring game, including a 26-yard pass from Nelson and a 24-yarder from Mitch Leidner. He is part of a deep Gophers tight end unit that includes juniors Drew Goodger and Alex Bisch, sophomore Lincoln Plsek and 6-9 freshman Nate Wozniak. It’s an important position in Matt Limegrover’s offense, which often uses two or three tight ends at the same time.
“All of us look up to Drew because he is the vet on the team,” Williams said of Goodger, who caught three touchdown passes last season.
Asked about mentoring Williams, a player with so much exuberance, Goodger said, “You have to keep him in his place sometimes. No, he’s a funny kid and a great athlete. He’s going to do really good things here at the U.”
Hey, it runs in the family.
• Kill confirmed that Nelson would be the starting quarterback for the Aug. 29 opener against UNLV — not that there was any doubt. Leidner will be the primary backup, with Chris Steveler the No. 3 option and Donovahn Jones shifted to wide receiver. “A kid I feel really good about right now is Chris Streveler,” Kill said. “[In scrimmages], he just plays, and the chains move and good things happen.”
• Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is preparing in case UNLV comes out running a no-huddle offense under first-year offensive coordinator Timm Rosenbach. With all the focus on who will start at middle linebacker — Damien Wilson or Jack Lynn — Claeys intends to play two units of linebackers a lot.
“We’re not going to know [the best starters to use] until after the first game,” Claeys said. “A lot of kids can practice, and all of a sudden, they get in the game, and they don’t play very well. So we’ll have two groups ready to go.”
• Freshman linebacker De’Niro Laster returned from his knee injury Tuesday, ahead of schedule. He’ll get several reps late in camp, with the coaches strongly considering playing him this year, at least on special teams.