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Nerves of Steel: Renauld Williams’ Journey Back to the NFL

Hofstra Linebacker Vying for Pittsburgh Steelers Roster Spot

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been following Renauld Williams’ football career since he was at Hofstra nearly a decade ago.

Williams, a native of Westbury, spent two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers and one with the Miami Dolphins before signing with the Canadian Football League. Williams played in seven NFL games during that span, but he was even more successful during two-plus seasons in the CFL.

And the Saskatchewan Roughriders, not to be confused with the Ottawa Rough Riders several hours away, went to the Grey Cup championship last year with Williams as a star linebacker. The Steelers continued to monitor his progress, and Williams also sent the club some tape of his games in Canada.

Everyone in the scouting department was impressed, so the Steelers brought Williams to town for a workout. He did well there, too, and the rest is history. Now, Williams is in Steelers training camp at Saint Vincent College trying to earn a roster spot.

“It’s really just an honor for me, because I’ve been removed from the league nearly three years now, so I’m just glad to be back with a team like the Steelers,’’ Williams said. “I bounced around a while. I was in San Fran, and I played in Canada probably the last two and a half years.

“I know it’s going to be rough for me to make the team, because there’s a lot of talent here, but I’m very happy to have this opportunity. And I’m going to give it everything I have to stay in the league. I hope it’s with the Steelers, but if that doesn’t happen then I’ll try to catch on with somebody else.’’

While listening to Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert, it would appear that Williams certainly isn’t an extreme long shot.

“(Renauld) played three years, I think, in the NFL on either practice squads or in camp and at least two years in Canada,’’ Colbert said. “So, this is his sixth pro season. Again, we try to track the CFL as best as we can, and it can’t hurt to get an experienced guy who has some special-team capabilities.

“And he did a nice job up there. When we scout Canada, we’re looking for the same thing that we do from everyone. That’s a willingness to hit, speed and intelligence. So, we targeted him, signed him in the spring, and now he’s competing for a roster spot in camp.’’

Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler gave Williams high marks so far.

“Renauld is trying to learn our system, like all the new guys, but he’s doing a good job with it right now,’’ Butler said. “We’ll see what happens when we get in prime time, and that’s the pre-season for him. So, he’ll be battling it out with some young guys and some veterans, and we’ll see how he fits in.’’

The Steelers, always noted for talented linebackers, are loaded again this year with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the outside, as well as James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons inside. Veterans Larry Foote and Keyaron Fox are backups inside, while Andre Frazier and Patrick Bailey are outside.

Those last two guys are special teams leaders as well, so that’s a tough group to crack. But Williams believed he was ready for the challenge.

“I’m looking forward to it,’’ Williams said. “I know how tough it is to make it in this league, but I think I have the talent and now some experience to stick on a roster. And I’ll do whatever it takes to do that.’’

Even though Atlanta is home for Williams now, he gets back to Long Island when he can. Williams played lacrosse at Friends Academy in Locust Valley.

“I love New York,’’ Williams said. “I was born and raised there and went to college at Hofstra, which was about 10 minutes away from my home. I still have a lot of friends back there, and my father and two brothers are still there. So, I enjoy getting back as much as possible.

“It was a great place to grow up, in Long Island, because it’s just a half hour from the city. So, I get back to Long Island when I can, and I went back twice this year. It was in the spring and summer before camp. And it was a good time, but it’s always good for me and will always be home.’’

And if Williams has his way, he’ll make a home in Pittsburgh this year as well.