Opportunity to play in pros a ‘dream’ for Minnesota TE Williams

Tight end Maxx Williams, who declared for the 2015 NFL Draft on Friday, led Minnesota in catches (36) and touchdown receptions (8) in 2014.

Troy Taormina/Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — Maxx Williams grew up around NFL locker rooms, following his father, Brian, around for several years. With his dad playing for the New York Giants, Williams was able to get to know players like Michael Strahan and others in the Giants locker room.

Now Williams is ready to call an NFL locker room his new home. The Gophers’ redshirt sophomore tight end announced Friday that he is forgoing his final two seasons at Minnesota and will enter this year’s NFL Draft. The announcement came one day after Williams had a highlight-reel touchdown catch against Missouri in the Citrus Bowl, just one of many impressive plays on his resume tape.

With his stock at an all-time high, it made perfect sense for Williams to strike while the iron was hot and turn pro.

"I sat down with my parents and said, ‘What were your goals when you came to college?’ For me, I wanted to play in the NFL," Williams said Friday. "Now having the opportunity to go play in the NFL, for me, it was just the right time knowing it’s a good chance for me to get drafted. Just perfect timing for me."

Williams said before the Citrus Bowl that he had submitted his name to the NFL Draft Advisory Board, which gives players an idea of where they might be drafted. On Friday, Williams said the feedback he received was that he likely won’t be drafted in the first two rounds, but a conservative estimate had him going perhaps in the third round.

Whichever round he’s taken it doesn’t matter to Williams. Nor does the team that drafts him. Although Williams grew up as a Giants fan because his father spent nine years with them as an offensive lineman, Williams said he’ll be happy to go anywhere.

"You get the chance to play in the NFL, you can’t really complain where you go," he said. "You’re living your dream of playing the game you love and making a profession out of it."

Williams racked up plenty of individual accolades during his breakout sophomore season, including the Big Ten Tight End of the Year award and All-American honors. Despite playing in a run-oriented offense, Williams led Minnesota in catches (36), receiving yards (569) and touchdown catches (8) as quarterback Mitch Leidner’s favorite target.

Gophers' Williams declares for NFL Draft

There was one game in particular that gave Williams the thought that perhaps he might be able to make the leap to the NFL. That would be Minnesota’s dominating, 51-14, win over rival Iowa. In that game, Williams not only had three touchdown catches but also had a jaw-dropping catch in which he dragged his toe along the sideline to make the grab on a pass that appeared to be going out of bounds.

"After the Iowa game is when I really felt it maybe could be a good thing if I had a good year the rest of the year," Williams said. "After the Wisconsin game, I really sat down with my parents and said, ‘This could be a thing. We should start talking about it.’"

The early departure of Williams came as a small surprise to the Gophers coaching staff, but they also understand the talent their tight end has. Minnesota will have to find a way to replace the production that Williams provided, but the Gophers feel confident about their depth at tight end.

On the same token, it’s a point of pride for the university and the program to see another player playing at the next level. Williams likely won’t be the only Gopher drafted this year, as running back David Cobb should hear his name called at some point during the draft, as well.

"We always say, you win football games because of good football players, not coaches," said tight ends coach Rob Reeves. "We’re just fortunate enough that Maxx came here. . . . It was exciting just being able to be around a great player like Maxx and watch him help us take the program and move it forward."

You get the chance to play in the NFL, you can’t really complain where you go. You’re living your dream of playing the game you love and making a profession out of it.

Minnesota TE Maxx Williams

Williams will leave an impressive legacy at Minnesota after just two seasons and will go down as one of the school’s top tight ends. He’ll be the first Gophers tight end drafted since the Pittsburgh Steelers took Matt Spaeth in the third round back in 2007.

But there are several things he mentioned Friday that he didn’t get to accomplish with his teammates during his time with the Gophers. Among them was beating rival Wisconsin, as well as winning a bowl game and a Big Ten title.

"Those are always things that are going to be on me where I didn’t accomplish (them)," Williams said. "For me personally, I’ve always wanted to play in the NFL. For me this is the right time to make the decision."

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter