CFL announces the cancellation of its regional, national combines
TORONTO — The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty regarding when Karlos Williams will return to pro football, but it hasn't hurt his preparation to play for the Toronto Argonauts.
The novel coronavirus outbreak has forced gyms across North America to close down. And last week, the CFL informed its teams only players rehabbing injuries could be at club facilities and even then, just one at a time.
Subsequently, much of the six-foot-one, 225-pound Williams's off-season conditioning has revolved around cardiovascular work. And that's just fine with the 26-year-old running back given he wants to be fit enough to be an every-down back with Toronto on the longer, wider Canadian field.
"I'm a pretty strong guy . . . so my biggest thing is cardio," Williams said. "I'm in (Tallahassee) Florida and we're starting to get that springtime feel, it's not as cold as some places.
"You're able to sweat, get your cardiovascular fitness up and just keep your immune system booming. Gyms are going to open and when they do, you just got to go to work all over again and get ready to play football."
Williams is looking to kick-start his pro career with Toronto. He hasn't played football since 2015 with the NFL's Buffalo Bills, making a significant impact as a rookie before his career was derailed by three suspensions for violating the league's substance abuse policy for marijuana use.
The most recent suspension was a year-long ban handed down June 28, 2017. In February 2019, the NFL reinstated Williams, whose older brother, Vince, is a linebacker with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
But the COVID-19 pandemic has created serious questions regarding when — or if — the 2020 CFL season will begin. Rookie camps are scheduled to open May 13 with training camps slated to start May 17.
However, the CFL has cancelled a number of its off-season combines and Tuesday postponed its 2020 global draft.
"I'm committed to play for Toronto," he said. "They gave me a chance to play football again and I'm going to give them 100 per cent . . . whenever that may be.
"I have to give them the respect they've earned on that end."
A converted safety at Florida State, Williams ran for 1,419 yards and 22 TDs in 26 games over his final two seasons. He helped the Seminoles win the '14 NCAA crown before going in the fifth round, No. 155 overall, of the NFL draft to Buffalo.
He tied an NFL record with TDs in his first six games en route to rushing for 517 yards (5.6-yard average) and seven touchdowns. He added 11 catches for 96 yards and two scores before being released by Buffalo in August 2016.
The NFL suspended Williams for four games that same year after testing positive for marijuana use. He joined the Pittsburgh Steelers practice roster Oct. 11, 2016 but received a second ban for 10 games weeks later.
He re-signed with Pittsburgh following the suspension but was released less than two months later. In June 2017, Williams received the year-long ban.
Williams is back at FSU finishing his sociology degree and following in the footsteps of his three older siblings — a sister and two brothers — who've all earned at least one college degree.
Williams said he's taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and following all the necessary precautions. And he's not really worrying about the Canada-U.S. border being temporarily closed because camp — for now — remains just under two months away.
"You've got to take it one day at a time," said Williams, a father of eight children who got married Dec. 31. "You can't control what the government is going to do, how much you're actually going to be able to hit the gym or hit the road.
"You can control what you eat, you can control your mental health and keep your body and mind right. I think that's going to be a big part of it."
Williams was drafted the same year as fellow running backs Todd Gurley (who just signed a one-year, US$6-million deal with the Atlanta Falcons) and Melvin Gordon (who has a two-year, $16-million deal with the Denver Broncos). Both those players were first-round picks.
Williams admits he sometimes wonders what might've been had he remained in the NFL.
"It's frustrating sometimes when we're watching NFL free agency and knowing at one point you were one of those backs in this class with Todd Gurley and Melvin Gordon," Williams said. "In my rookie year, I scored nine touchdowns and Gordon didn't score any.
"Things like that kind of hit home but my wife keeps me grounded, she keeps me level-headed. My time will come, I've just got to go take the baby steps and playing in Toronto is that first step to hopefully getting back to the NFL."
However, Williams said Toronto will be getting a much different player than the one who was in the NFL.
"My appreciation for the game is different," he said. "You don't fully appreciate anything until it's gone.
"You've got to be able to roll with the punches and I am ready for that. Toronto is getting a different human being. They're getting someone who's hungrier, someone who sees football and life in a different light. Besides, my wife has never been to Toronto so it's going to be pretty cool. I can't wait, I'm definitely excited."