Sox GM Ken Williams’ son Kyle shining with 49ers
By Sean Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org January 12, 2012 9:26PM
Kyle Williams caught 20 passes, including three for touchdowns, in his second NFL season. | Ezra Shaw~Getty Images
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Updated: February 14, 2012 10:31AM
In Kyle Williams’ family, there’s a clear sports hierarchy.
“In everybody else’s mind, it’s baseball one and football two,” Williams told the Sun-Times on Thursday. “So when I made the decision — football over baseball — it was kind of an oddball decision. It kind of went without saying that we would play baseball.”
That’s because his father is Ken Williams, the longtime general manager of the White Sox. And while the Williams men have excelled in both sports, they all ultimately picked baseball —except for Kyle.
He planned to play both sports at Arizona State until Dennis Erickson was hired and forced him to choose one.
About five years later, Kyle, 23, has no regrets.
A sixth-round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in 2010, he’ll play in the divisional playoff game Saturday against the New Orleans Saints at Candlestick Park.
“It’s one of those things where you could play What If? But if I went the baseball route, I don’t know if it would’ve panned out right or not. But I’m blessed to be in the position I am now, and I just want to make the most of it.
“To be in the position I am now, it’s pretty hard to complain.”
Kyle picked Arizona State with the understanding that he would play baseball in the spring and football in the fall. But football coach Dirk Koetter was fired toward the end of the 2006 season, and Erickson replaced him. During the winter, Erickson gave Kyle an ultimatum.
“ ‘You need to make a decision, and it’s for your benefit,’ ” Kyle recalled Erickson telling him. “ ‘You can go play baseball, but you may not have a scholarship when you come back.’ ”
That message didn’t sit well with Kyle or his father.
But Ken Williams was even more disappointed about Kyle’s decision.
“You can imagine he wasn’t too thrilled about that one,” Kyle said. “I’d played baseball up until that point.
“When I made the decision, I was 19.”
Kyle said one of the factors was the impact of the sports at the school.
“When you’re a kid, and there’s 70,000 in the stands for a football game and 500 in the stands for the baseball game, it’s kind of easy,” Kyle said.
As he reflects, Kyle said he’s now grateful to Erickson.
“As a kid, I took that a little bit the wrong way,” he said. “But as I look back on it, I think he gave me the best chance to make it in either sport.”
Kyle distinguished himself as a returner, but he became a regular starter at receiver as a senior, catching 57 passes for 815 yards and eight touchdowns.
His father joined him in Indianapolis for the NFL combine, and he provided plenty of insight on adjusting to pro sports.
As a rookie, Kyle appeared in only five games and caught one pass. The 49ers went 6-10, and coach Mike Singletary was fired before the season finale.
“It seemed like there was drama every week,” Kyle said.
But the 49ers hired Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh, and he immediately reshaped the franchise.
“Everything has come full circle,” Kyle said. “To be a part of that has been great and fun.”
This season, Kyle has endeared himself with his versatility, returning punts and kickoffs, catching 20 passes, including three for touchdowns, and even running the ball twice.
“He brings juice out there,” Harbaugh said last month, citing Kyle’s stiff arm and fearless run in a game. “I think we really feel good about where Kyle is right now. He’s really asserting himself.”
Last Saturday, Kyle purchased 10 tickets for friends and family, including his parents.
“I’m just excited about this opportunity that we have,” he said. “I’ve played with people who played for 10 to 15 years, and they never got a chance to go to the playoffs. So to get my chance in my second year, it’s hard to describe how that is and how it feels.
“I’m excited about the opportunity, and I’m going to play a role in this. It’s all coming together.”