By Mike Wise
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
The woman called her nephew excitedly at about 4 p.m. Saturday, informing him the news conference to announce the 53-man roster was scheduled for 6 p.m. Being on pins and needles about whether he would make the final cut for the Washington Redskins, Edwin Williams knew this of course.
What he didn't know was from where Camille Pierce, his aunt and sometimes surrogate mother, was calling -- and why she knew so much.
"I'm at Redskins Park," she said.
"What?" Edwin said, stunned. "You're at Redskins Park? What are you doing there?"
Camille Pierce laughs now and explains.
It's like when the little boy the family called "Ham" needed to be picked up from school, before he grew into a 6-foot-3, 300-pound-plus star at DeMatha High School and later the University of Maryland. Before Edwin Williams wound up as an undrafted rookie free agent this summer in Ashburn, a long shot to make the team -- back when he was a child in need.
When Camille was working late, she recalled, she had her friend, a police officer, pick up Edwin and his sister Danielle in a squad car. She didn't care if her nephew was embarrassed about his ride; she wanted to make sure he got home safe, that support was there.
That's why she telephoned The Post's Sports department on Saturday and politely asked where the news conference was and could she please have directions to Ashburn, as if Edwin Williams was 10, trying to get a part in a school play. Or make his Pop Warner roster.
Really, what relative of an undrafted long shot is brave enough to show up to an NFL team's training facility without the player or team's knowledge -- on cut-down day?
"I know, I just can't stop treatin' him like a baby," Camille said. "I wanted to see it happen for him. And if it didn't happen I wanted to make sure I was there to for him, to show him no matter what I'm there for him."
Edwin Williams needed people there for him, especially as a child.
He and Danielle were the products of cocaine-addicted parents, both of whom learned that staying clean in recovery was much more of an odyssey than their son one day trying to make an NFL roster.
Cheron Williams and Edwin Sr., in a very revealing interview with The Post's Steve Yanda this past May, told of Cheron's prenatal cocaine use and of their dual sobriety in Narcotics Anonymous -- going on two decades each now. How they incessantly drilled into their children's heads one credo:
"You don't want to end up like your Mom and Dad."
"We were shielded and protected from a lot of what happened," Edwin said. "We never saw the worst parts of the addiction as children -- or at least other people in our lives tried not to let us see it."
Raised by Camille and his grandparents, Thomas and Orlean Pierce, and Danielle, Edwin overcame his own juvenile ways at DeMatha before ending up a three-year starter at Maryland, where he played center on the offensive line and in his senior year won the 2008 Wilma Rudolph Award, the national honor given to student-athletes who have overcome "great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success."
When he wasn't drafted, the chances of playing in the NFL began to dim. But Edwin believed, like another undrafted offensive lineman from Maryland two years ago, Stephon Heyer, that if he persevered every day in training camp the Redskins would have a tough time cutting him.
Early on in training camp, he bumped helmets with Albert Haynesworth, the $100 million free agent defensive lineman, who, after the play, looked at Williams and said, dismissively, "You think you can block me?"
"In my mind I thought, 'That's what I thought I was doing,' but I didn't say anything," Edwin said. "If I was at Maryland I would have named him every name I know. But I just got out of college. I didn't have that reputation. I just went back to the huddle and did my job."
Joe Bugel, the team's offensive line coach for life, a man Edwin calls "legendary" -- "As in, you just want to keep hearing the stories of Coach Buges, you know," he said -- became a believer.
But it still wasn't clear the newbie would make the team, especially with so much keen competition for the final roster spots. For the first time in his career he was also switching from center to left guard, where the coaching staff wanted him to back up Derrick Dockery.
Along with Bugel, Casey Rabach also became a benefactor. Williams called the veteran lineman the smartest, most professional, down-to-earth veteran any rookie could ever come across. "Watching Casey, listening to him, made me a better player," he said.
He kept persevering, showing up and occasionally standing up veterans across the line -- until Saturday morning, about 9 a.m., when a call from his agent came. Yes, he knew he had made the 53-man roster before Auntie Camille, camped out at Redskins Park, awaiting word.
Camille once worked for "60 Minutes" as an assistant producer in the show's infancy and recently retired as a chief of staff in the U.S. Office of Housing and Urban Development. "Let's just say I knew my way around," she said.
She spoke to members of the coaching staff and their secretaries at Redskins Park, learning in fact her nephew had made his first NFL team long before the news conference began.
"They didn't want her to stay and start making noise when they announced I had made it," Edwin said. "They thought it might be disrespectful to other people who hadn't made the team."
They shared their happiness over the phone and met up at his grandmother's house in Northeast Washington the next morning, where his mother joined in the celebration of her son's greatest moment in football -- the day after Edwin Williams made the final roster of his hometown Washington Redskins.
If you're wondering how he got there, he was driving Camille's Chevy Tahoe.
"A little bit ago Edwin's Ford Explorer broke down twice in the left hand lane of the Beltway," she said. "The last time was an electrical problem. So I just gave him my keys. Had to make sure he had a ride."