Gizmo Williams takes on high school coaching position

August 29, 2017
Edmonton Sun

About 30 young athletes were tossing a football, exchanging jokes in familiar and enjoyable ways, moments before the start of a Jasper Place Rebels senior football practice.

All of a sudden, the picture changed.

The good nature remained, but the concentration and intensity grew measurably and a few players clapped their hands to welcome assistant coach Henry (Gizmo) Williams to the field. Some appointments in his schedule as a personal fitness trainer schedule kept the Canadian Football League immortal elsewhere for a day or so and everyone was glad to have him back.

He ended his career with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2000.

“These kids love the Giz,” said Rebels offensive coordinator John Belmont, who was part of Joe Faragalli’s coaching staff when Williams joined the Eskimos in 1986. “He does a lot of good things for us, maybe the best is the way he runs the warmup drill.”

As Belmont and head coach Lee Hrycun looked on, the practice attitude changed from casual to serious but the pleasure remained in place for the kids.

“Are you ready?,” Williams asked at the start of every movement, then repeated the challenge: “Are you ready?”

Obviously, they were.

Players sweated willingly through push-ups, agility drills and speed movements, all at a pace set by a 55-year-old man who, somewhat unbelievably, retired from football 17 long years ago.

As soon as this phase of the workout ended, Hrycun and other assistants directed more than an hour of preparation for the a pre-season exhibition against the Strathcona Lords on Sept. 1. Through all of it, Gizmo’s sheer pleasure was evident.

“Being around the kids makes me happy,” he said. “Helps keep me young.

“I can work these things into my schedule. I get a chance to help with the conditioning and the attitude. You might remember that conditioning was always important to me and it still is.”

It was important to the Eskimos, too. They won the 1987 and 1993 Grey Cups with his help and reached three other finals.

Williams, a Hall-of-Famer also recognized on the Eskimos’ wall of honour at Commonwealth Stadium, still ranks as the CFL leader in punts and kickoffs returned and the yards gained on those special teams. Most memorable, almost certainly, was his record 112-yard touchdown on a return of a missed Toronto Argonauts field goal in the 38-36 Grey Cup triumph of 1987.

In two seasons, he neared 1,000 yards as a receiver. Now, he is quick to share the knowledge that made him an all-star several times. Hrycun, who enters his first year as head coach, succeeding athletic director Matt Burrows after many years in both the junior and senior programs at Jasper Place, couldn’t resist one good-natured barb: “Giz, you just ran past everybody.”

It’s accepted that nobody can teach speed but a few hours with Williams stand as proof shows energy can be a big part of any lesson plan.

His speed was almost unmatched, of course, but he also learned to follow blockers and find room on pass routes. One beneficiary of this experience is 160-pound Mike Humen, entering his Grade 11 year and eager to keep improving his skills.

“Giz jokes a lot,” the youngster said. “He keeps everybody loose . . . just keeps us pumped up.”

He also reminds Humen and other receivers, “to follow the blockers more and track the ball in the air.”

Belmont, for one, sees much potential improvement in his offence, to be led by quarterbacks Jeremy McEwan and Russ Dixon.

“These guys work hard,” Belmont added. “When you reach the standard of effort that these kids see from Gizmo, they get a lot more energy.”

Speaking in only a few words – a rare circumstance, as his friends know – Gizmo thanked his son Kaydin for getting him back to the field.

“I mentioned that I missed the game and my son asked me to come back,” Williams said. “He graduated last year. He isn’t here any more. But I am. As long as the kids are having fun and learning, I’m having as much fun as they are.

“I don’t know how long I will keep doing this, but I’m not in any hurry to stop.”

Photo by David Bloom, Edmonton Sun


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