Chris Williamson never thought it would happen to him.
Going pro with a teammate by his side, that is.
The former Gophers cornerback and his college teammate, Carter Coughlin, will both make their way to New York soon as new members of the Giants. The Giants selected Coughlin, a linebacker, 218th overall in the seventh round and Williams 247th overall later in that final round.
"I don't know how often it happens, teammates get drafted the same team," Williamson said. "We're extremely excited. We can't wait to get to New York. Obviously, me and him are going to be together majority of the time. We're probably going to get a apartment together, something like that. I mean, it's also going to make the process from the transition of college football to the NFL much easier because I have somebody that I know that I can go through that with."
Williamson and Coughlin were two of five drafted Gophers, plus another two who agreed to sign undrafted free agent deals. That's a modern-era record for the program that went 11-2 this past season, a record the two helped reach with strong senior seasons. Williamson, at nickel, made 57 tackles and a pick-six while Coughlin made 49 tackles as a rush end, including 4.5 sacks.
"It's just cool to see the some of the fruits of our labor," Coughlin said of being part of a historic draft class. "... We all came to Minnesota with the same goal and started off with that 'empire' class back in 2016. And so it's cool to see that a lot of us are going to get the opportunity to continue playing football, and we'll be able to play against each other in the league."
Coughlin's 2016 recruiting class, self-dubbed as the "empire" class, had three other players drafted. Safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (45th overall in the second round) and receiver Tyler Johnson (161st overall, fifth round) went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Linebacker Kamal Martin (175th overall, fifth round) is a Green Bay Packer. Williamson transferred to the Gophers from Florida for his final two years of eligibility.
There was a bit of a party in the group chat with such a big haul (running back Rodney Smith and defensive tackle Sam Renner were undrafted free agent pickups to the Carolina Panthers and Los Angeles Rams, respectively). And Coughlin said he's looking forward to having Williamson as someone for talking through film, learning the playbook and in general being a comfortable face to see around during this new journey.
Exactly when that journey will start, though, is still unknown. The coronavirus pandemic has already affected the draft process with canceling pro days and team visits and forcing the draft itself to go virtual. But now these newly drafted players won't be able to immediately join their new teams for fan events, media introductions or rookie mini-camps. Instead it's more of what they have been doing already: working (out) from home.
The Giants have already shared their offseason programs with Williamson and Coughlin so they can work on cardio, speed, conditioning and positional drills.
"The people that are going to succeed are the people that are going to use this time the best, and that's something that I learned at the University of Minnesota is that you can only control what you can control," Coughlin said. "I can't control when I'm able to get out to New York and be able to do walk-throughs and learn face-to-face, but I can control how much I can do by myself. And so I'm going to have a lot of resources coming in the next couple of days, whether it's being able to watch film on an iPad and all that kind of stuff. But I'm working through how to maximize my time here. ... I'm going to be doing everything I can to prepare."
But the duo can still take some time to revel in the exciting moment. Coughlin, an Eden Prairie native, was with his family at their cabin in Pequot Lakes along with three of his best friends there for the weekend to celebrate. He remembered how all of the anxiety built up throughout several days all washed away as soon as he received that one phone call.
Williamson was always a bit of an under-the-radar prospect. He wasn't invited to the combine like the other four drafted Gophers. And with no pro day, he attributed a big reason for the Giants drafting him to his solid performance at the East-West Shrine Bowl back in January. That's where he first connected with Giants scouts, and they stayed in touch through the next several months.
But around pick 230 this past Saturday, Williamson was at home in Georgia, already discussing priority free agent contingency plans with his agent. Until he started receiving texts in quick succession from the Giants' defensive coordinator, secondary coach and head scout, all basically saying the same thing, that they were "pounding the table" to have management draft him.
When the 242nd pick was coming in, a New Jersey number lit up Williamson's phone, Giants' general manager Dave Gettleman. He asked Williamson how he was feeling and if he was healthy.
"He paused for a little bit, and he waited. Next thing he asked me was, 'Are you ready to be a New York Giant?' And it kind of went through one ear and out the other, I was like, 'Wait, what do you mean?'" Williamson recalled. "... I'll be honest with you, after he told me that, like, I forget everything else that happened because I was just so happy. It's crying tears of joy, me and my dad, my brother."
Poor Dad was so thrilled, he forgot to press record on his phone to capture his son's name scrolling across the TV screen. Luckily, Williamson's brother didn't.
"He was just so excited," Williamson said, laughing.