With COVID shutdowns affecting the nation – and especially his native New York City – Chris Williams found himself training in a shed barely big enough for two people last summer.
The structure was located in the backyard of Gavin Ingster, a personal trainer who began working with the hulking defensive tackle during his junior year at Wagner College. And Williams was glad to have it.
“We just got after it, got right,” Williams said last week from Ingster’s new facility in Middletown, New Jersey. “The little bit we did have, we made the best out of it.”
That’s been a theme during Williams’ football life.
When the Indianapolis Colts report to training camp at Westfield’s Grand Park on July 27, the 6-foot-2, 302-pound defensive tackle again will attempt to beat the odds. After entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent during the pandemic, he fought his way onto the practice squad and gained valuable experience.
He hopes to put the knowledge he gained to good use while competing at one of the roster’s deepest positions. Williams can play either spot on the interior of the defensive line but is probably best suited to nose tackle.
He’s always been big, routinely missing games as a youth in the Kings Bay Football league in Brooklyn, New York, because he exceeded the weekly weight limit. But he loved the game enough to make it his sole focus in high school, leaving basketball and baseball behind.
“I chose football,” Williams said, “and I don’t regret the choice, either.”
He naturally gravitated toward the trenches but found the offensive line “boring.” So he became a defender and in many ways was a self-made man.
Without access to a top strength training facility during his high school years, Williams and his brother watched YouTube videos to learn workouts and then made their way to a local gym before school each day at 5 a.m. Then they’d hit the football field after school, maximizing their daily hours.
It paid off with college attention, including some NCAA Div. I interest from Temple, but Williams ultimately chose to stay close to home at Wagner on Staten Island. His workouts improved at the school’s facility, but they really took off after his brother connected Williams with Ingster.
At first, the defensive tackle was resistant. He had a negative view of personal trainers, believing their primary interest was in money or taking credit for others’ hard work. But he found a kindred spirit in Ingster, a person wholly committed to his craft and willing to put in whatever work was necessary to improve on it.
“Gavin has a way that I’ve never experienced before of training, where you train hard but you train smart,” Williams said. “There’s no reason to put your body in painful positions when you’re gonna be doing that the whole season and you’ve gotta play through it. So he’ll push you, make sure you feel that pain, but he’s also gonna make sure that you’re gonna feel the freshest.
“And I know that — after my first offseason training (with Ingster) — I felt fresh. I felt more flexible, more loose, more explosive, more quick. And then I was like — it showed up in my numbers. And then going into my senior year, I did it again, and then that’s when it took off.”
Williams recorded 62 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and four of his six career sacks as a senior. He was named first team All-Northeastern Conference and earned an invitation to the East-West Shrine Bowl.
It was there the NFL interest picked up and he really landed on the Colts’ radar.
Then COVID hit, and the world shut down. Interviews and visits with teams were canceled, and the draft was held remotely.
After Williams signed with Indianapolis, he didn’t meet his new teammates in person for nearly four months. The first on-field work of the offseason came with the dawn of training camp in August, and the veterans told Williams nothing was as it had been in the past.
But this was all he’d ever known, and he made the most of it.
“I feel like it was harder to grade the competition because there were no preseason games,” Williams said. “But it was just like regular football. People try to change it because it’s a higher level of football, but at the end of the day it’s football. So you just gotta go out there and be you, keep doing what you’re great at and show them what things you’re best at. And that’s a lot of good stuff I’ve learned in last year’s camp.”
That knowledge was augmented throughout the season through practice reps against one of the top offensive lines in the league. Going up against center Ryan Kelly and left guard Quenton Nelson — a pair of Pro Bowlers — on a regular basis taught Williams what it takes to be great at the pro level.
And he’s taking that experience with him this summer.
As he readies to again audition for his dream job, Williams feels more prepared. Beginning June 18, he has woken up at 6 a.m. for a stretch and breakfast. Then there’s a one-hour drive to Ingster’s Sports Performance Lab in New Jersey.
At 9 a.m., he begins a 90-minute workout with weights and cardio. That’s followed by an hour of treatment and leg work.
Then it’s back home to Brooklyn for on-field drills and evening film study.
It’s the kind of work ethic Williams has shown throughout his career, and Ingster’s workouts have him feeling better than he ever has before.
Soon enough, the competition will begin again.
And Williams welcomes it.
“I’m beyond excited,” he said. “There’s a lot of great guys, a lot of great players on that team. And one thing I know about competition, Colts coaches really get after it and bring really good players in to raise the level of competition. One of our mottos is ‘competition breeds excellence.’ … There’s only two things you can do when you’re in that type of competition. It’s either develop it or you fold, and I know I’m not gonna fold. I’ve worked too hard to fold.
“So I’m more excited to see the heights this competition’s going to get me to in this camp coming up. Because, I know one thing about me, when competition comes I raise and exceed that level.”