Kyle Williams may never be a star in the National Football League.
He may never lead the 49ers in receiving, go to the Pro Bowl or be mentioned among the league’s elite wide receivers.
Yet Williams has earned the respect of teammates, coaches and the media – over and over again – for the way he’s handled himself since making two costly mistakes in last season’s NFC Championship Game that led to the Niners’ overtime loss to the New York Giants.
He’s proven to be a stand-up guy, facing adversity with character and honesty.
And, with summer camp under way, Williams reportedly is playing better than ever after an offseason of hard work.
As Cam Inman of the Bay Area News Group reported this week, members of the national media who’ve come to 49ers training camp have requested interviews with Williams, forcing him to re-live his mistakes again and again, yet Williams obliges every time.
Wrote Inman: “Williams understands he remains a searing reminder of how close the 49ers came to last season’s Super Bowl, and he knows that reporters will soon divert their attention to something else once the games begin anew.”
Though some fans took to Twitter to bombard and threaten Williams after his errors on two punt returns in the NFC Championship Game in January, Williams says his teammates and coaches have been consistently supportive.
“They genuinely do have my back on this,” Williams told Inman. “It’s really been a treat to have those guys there.”
Williams also says he knew the wave of attention and criticism was headed his way as soon as he made his errors. Even with the pain of his mistakes so fresh that January night, he told Inman he needed to stand up to the questions and “take it like a man.”
Recently, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh spoke up in support of his third-year wideout, telling Sports Illustrated that, “We will not allow the media to hang an albatross (around) his neck. He’s on the inside of our team looking out.”
Though he’s competing for a roster spot this preseason with a cast that includes Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, Ted Ginn Jr. and rookie A.J. Jenkins, Williams says he’s determined to do whatever it takes to make the team.
He threw himself into a conditioning regimen over the past few months that’s made him even fitter, and he’s willing to play special teams and return kicks and punts while also trying to earn a spot in the wideout rotation.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Williams told Inman.
“I don’t sit here and think, ‘How many are they going to keep,’ ” he added. “I’m going to work my tail off. When it’s all said and done, I’ll be there.”
Williams, in fact, is trying to turn a negative into a positive.
So far in camp, he’s been making good catches and good plays. He’s stood out, even among a deep group of receivers.
Now, he told Inman, he has even more motivation to prove himself, a type of motivation he’s never felt before.
“There’s a different type of feeling when you get knocked on your ass like I did,” he said. “There’s a different type of feeling. It all went bad. When the worst possible thing happens, and that pain you’re dealing with, it burns in you. It eats away at you.
“You can’t wait to get out there. You can’t wait to hit somebody. You can’t wait to make a play.”