Camren Williams, like many others who have played football for Ohio State, has gone on to have a career in the NFL since playing for the Buckeyes. Unlike most of those others, however, Williams has done so without ever playing a down in the league.
The New England Patriots hired Williams, a linebacker for Ohio State from 2012-15, as a scouting assistant in February 2016. Now, Williams is going into his third year with the reigning AFC champions, with the Patriots recently promoting him to the role of area scout.
As Williams begins to climb the ladder of the Patriots’ scouting department, he says his experiences playing football for Ohio State have gone a long way in enabling him to now be successful on the front office side of the sport.
"My best experience that prepared me for this job was my experience on the football field," Williams said. "Sitting in the meeting rooms with (former Ohio State coach) Luke Fickell, sitting in the meeting rooms with (Ohio State defensive line coach) Larry Johnson and (former Ohio State assistant coaches) Everett Withers and Chris Ash and all those guys, that’s what really got me ready for this. And I’m indebted to those people for the rest of my life."
Williams repaid some of that debt to Ohio State by attending the football program’s annual job fair at Ohio State on Friday, where he and another member of the Patriots’ scouting staff met with some of the current Buckeyes to trade business cards and answer their questions about working as a scout. Williams also spoke to the team as a group prior to Friday’s event.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer expressed his gratitude to Williams in a tweet, in which he said Williams spoke to the team about "Elite culture." Ohio State director of player development Ryan Stamper, who coordinated Friday’s event, said he believes it is particularly valuable to have former players like Williams at the job fair because it’s proof of what Ohio State players can do outside of playing football.
"Coach Meyer says all the time, there’s theory and there’s testimony," Stamper said. "Theory is something that’s supposed to happen, testimony is it’s proven that it happens, and these players that come back, it’s testimony that these guys that sat in the same seats as our players, went through Real Life Wednesday, got their careers at the job fair and now coming back, representing their company, it’s like athletes hiring athletes. So that’s what makes the most proud, honestly."
Williams said he wanted the current Buckeyes to know that while many of them likely have their sights set on playing in the NFL – as he did himself early in his Ohio State career – that they should also take advantage of the opportunities Ohio State provides to prepare themselves for their post-playing careers.
"A lot of the guys come here with the outlook that they want to play in the NFL, and they should. That’s why they came to Ohio State. They came to Ohio State for a reason," Williams said. "But I think ultimately, whether it’s a year from now or it’s 10 years from now, the cheering’s going to stop for all these players. And opportunities like this, with the networking workshops and the shadowing experiences and all that, that really give the players a good perspective and understanding of what it takes to be successful outside of football, and that’s really what’s important because that’s what’s going to last in the long run."
Williams – who took advantage of multiple internship opportunities during his time at Ohio State, where he considered a career in sports marketing or sports law before deciding on pursuing a career in scouting – said what he saw Friday showed him that Ohio State’s Real Life Wednesdays program has only continued to evolve since his time in Columbus.
"When I got here … this didn’t exist," Williams said. "And then to see it grow, it’s not even just this event, it’s the preparation that it takes beforehand and seeing these guys doing networking workshops and shadow experiences and the résumés are all up and running, game-ready. They have business cards. To see that preparation, and the passion that they have outside of football too, is really exciting to see that they’ve grown a ton in this field, and it’s been amazing to see all of this go down."
Now that he is an NFL scout, Williams has had to familiarize himself with college football programs throughout the country, but he says he hasn’t seen any program that does as much to prepare its players for life off the field as he has seen firsthand at Ohio State.
"It’s hard for me to believe that anybody else in the country is doing anything at this level, and to this extent," Williams said. "And when I spoke to these guys earlier, there’s nothing that I could really tell them leading into this that got them prepared any better than they already have been. Nothing I can say that they haven’t already heard, that they haven’t already been exposed to."
“Sitting in the meeting rooms with Luke Fickell, sitting in the meeting rooms with Larry Johnson and Everett Withers and Chris Ash and all those guys, that’s what really got me ready for this. And I’m indebted to those people for the rest of my life.”– Camren Williams
That’s not to say that Williams’ own education hasn’t continued since he’s started working in the NFL. In his first two years with the Patriots, he says he has learned about the ins and outs of the scouting industry while continuing to learn about winning culture.
"Being exposed to a program like the New England Patriots and an organization like that is second to none. Whether you’re trying to work in any field, it’s incredible to be a part of and learn from Coach (Bill) Belichick and the things that he does," Williams said. "From a practical standpoint, I’ve learned a ton. Because I played linebacker. And I didn’t have a job before here. So I had to learn to evaluate a quarterback. I had to learn how to evaluate a punter and a kicker and a long snapper. So from a development standpoint, I learned a ton over the past, going into my third year now, that has grown me as a scout. But then also from a cultural standpoint, being in New England has been a huge teaching tool for me."
Williams also knows from his experiences, though, that playing football at Ohio State can give someone a leg up over players from other schools in preparing for the challenges of the professional world. And he says that is not lost on him from a scouting perspective.
"When you look at a program like Ohio State, look at Coach Meyer and what they’ve done; for us, drafting a player and getting a player in our building, we have a better idea that maybe this guy’s a little closer to game-ready, and maybe he’s a little bit more easily acclimated into our programs than some other schools may be, because it’s such a good program, they coach the guys so well, they train so hard," said Williams, although the Patriots have not yet drafted a Buckeye since hiring him. "And you see it now. Guys like Joey Bosa, Marshon Lattimore, all those guys walk right into the league and they’re ready to roll, and it’s not just because of their God-given talent, but a lot of it falls back on the preparation that it came from, and the foundation that they got back here."