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December 7, 2011
Kyle Williams inherited the speed gene

kyle.jpg

***Wondering where Kyle Williams, who scored the 49ers' longest touchdown of the season Sunday, gets his speed? Here's a story I wrote after he was drafted last year that explains it.***

Tracking a fly ball in deep center field is no easy task. Then again, you don't have 11 opponents bearing down on you from all sides while you're trying to locate the ball. That's the not-so-subtle point Kyle Williams' family tried to impress upon Williams in recent years.

The Williamses, you see, are a baseball family. One of Kyle's brothers, Dedrick, is a scout for the Chicago White Sox. Another brother, Kenny Jr., plays for a White Sox affiliate in Winston-Salem, N.C. Their father is Ken Williams, the White Sox general manager who built a world championship team in 2005. Kyle Williams, in fact, was drafted by Chicago in the 47th round of the MLB draft in 2006.

But this White Sock is a black sheep.

"I'm kind of the oddball of the family because everybody did baseball," Kyle Williams said. "I kind of ventured my own way, but it's one of those things where people said that I couldn't do it. I wasn't good enough to do it. I had to prove them otherwise. I'm one of those guys when somebody tells me I can't do something, I'm going to start to do it just to prove them wrong."

Williams said the choice between baseball and football always has been foggy in his mind, but it began to crystallize before his senior year at Arizona State. His football coach, Dennis Erickson, didn't want him splitting time between the sports. So for the first time in his life, Williams focused solely on football.

"We were all worried about that because Kyle is not that big," his grandmother, Ethel Williams, said. "When he was in high school, it wasn't as big a worry because the other players aren't that big at that level."

Kyle Williams' dedication paid off. He led the Sun Devils in receiving as a 186-pound senior with 57 catches for 815 yards and eight touchdowns. The 49ers drafted him in the sixth round last month, noting Williams is a natural fit at slot receiver, his primary position at Arizona State.

"There's nobody on this football team that has the quickness he has in the slot," acting general manager Trent Baalke said. The selection turned out to be a homecoming for Williams. He was born in San Jose and has family throughout the Bay Area.

His grandfather, Jerry Williams, was a track star in the 1960s - "That's where Kyle gets his speed," Ethel Williams said - who has the distinction of beating John Carlos and Tommie Smith in the same race. Carlos, in fact, is Ken Williams Sr.'s godfather.

Ken Williams, meanwhile, has a football background of his own. A receiver at Stanford, he was watching from the sideline on that nowfamous November day in 1982 when the Stanford band prematurely began celebrating a victory over Cal. When replays of "The Play" come on in the Williams household, someone immediately changes the channel.

Unlike his son, Ken Williams preferred running down fly balls to running post patterns. He was taken in the third round of the MLB draft in 1982 and played six seasons as a major league outfielder from 1986 to 1991.

Having a dad in a baseball front office meant Kyle Williams had some high-profile playmates. When he wanted to toss the ball around, he'd tap the shoulder of Ozzie Guillén, his favorite player.

"It was not uncommon for Bo Jackson or any of those guys to drop by the house," Ethel Williams said. Still, Kyle Williams admitted to being "a little starstruck" when he met Vernon Davis, Michael Crabtree and Mike Singletary last week in Santa Clara.

Williams grew up in Chicago, where Singletary is a legend. Singletary is eyeing Williams as someone who can possibly salvage a 49ers punt-return game that was dreadful in 2009. Williams handled 74 punts in four seasons with the Sun Devils. He averaged a 17 yards per return as a junior, the best in the Pacific-10 Conference that year.

Williams said fielding punts comes natural to him. After all, it's almost like shagging a fly ball.

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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