Bears Edwin Williams rises above his roots
He was a child of drug-addicted parents, but nurtured by his grandparents and sister, he has turned adversity into an NFL career
by Sean Jensen
His emergence is atypical, the rare and rapid rise of an undrafted player released by his original club.
On Aug. 31, the Washington Redskins cut offensive lineman Edwin Williams with the intention of adding him to their practice squad. But the Bears persuaded Williams to leave all the comforts of home -- he attended DeMatha High in Washington, D.C., played collegiately at Maryland and lived with his father, Edwin Sr., in Virginia -- and, ultimately, join their practice squad instead
Within a month of his arrival, the Bears proactively elevated him to their 53-man roster, then promoted him into the starting lineup last Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
''I'd be lying if I said I fully expected this,'' Williams said. ''It's been kind of wild. I've never been away from home.''
Yet perhaps one of the keys to his success is his profound understanding of his position, the core function of an offensive lineman. His job is to protect his quarterback and clear a path for his running back, all obstacles and opponents be damned.
For most of his life, Williams has been the beneficiary, the one sheltered and guarded by family and friends.
His parents, after all, were addicted to freebase, the base form of cocaine, for much of his and his sister Danielle's adolescence. In fact, during both pregnancies, Cheron Williams was an addict. In her rare moments of consciousness -- oftentimes en route to buying more drugs -- Cheron feared for her children's health.
''That's why I'm so deathly afraid and have so much respect for cocaine to this day,'' she said, ''because anything that will make you overcome your instincts to protect your child, as a mother, is powerful.''
Only by the grace of God, Cheron said, are her children well, is she clean and is she able to help others overcome addictions.
''I'm blessed,'' Cheron said. ''God has been saving me my whole life.''
And while she is proud that her son is in the NFL, Cheron says she's more proud of the man he has become.
''The NFL can be here today and gone tomorrow,'' she said. ''But he's a good man. A goooood man.''
Cheron later pursued a masters in psychology out of curiosity, to dissect how a woman like her -- from a solid family in D.C., who graduated from Fayetteville State (N.C.) University with two degrees and married the captain of the football team there -- could wind up spending $1,000 a day on freebase and eventually dealing drugs and losing everything.
''We were the All-American couple,'' Cheron said of herself and her husband, Edwin Sr. ''At one time we were in love, but then the glue that held us together was that we were partners in crime. We stayed together for the common cause to get high.''
Cheron's parents, Thomas and Orlean Pierce, refused to allow their grandchildren to be reared by addicts.
''My father said, 'You all can go out and kill yourselves, but bring me the kids,' '' Cheron recalled of her deceased father.
The Pierces embraced the responsibility, lovingly caring for their grandchildren. Thomas dropped them off and picked them up from private school each day.
''We never took public transportation,'' Danielle said with pride. ''They were just so involved in our lives.''
Aunts, uncles and close friends of the family escorted them to school functions and football games, and they collectively shielded Edwin -- three years younger than Danielle -- from his parents' travails.
''They didn't hide anything from me,'' Danielle said. ''But he was just so young, and he didn't really need to know what was going on.''
By his admission, Edwin Jr. was a ''gullible kid,'' a big target for bullies. Yet Danielle challenged anyone who threatened or picked on her brother, including one who called Edwin an unflattering name.
''I don't even remember what it was,'' Danielle said. ''I just know he had called my little brother a name, and the look on his face just broke my heart.
''I just had to beat that boy up,'' said Danielle, who is eight months pregnant and works as a facilities manager of multiple homes for mentally disabled adults. ''Nobody could ever mess with my brother.''
Edwin calls his sister a mentor, and he marvels at all the times he couldn't sleep when he was little because of headaches.
''She would stay up all night, holding me, and telling me I was going to be OK,'' he said.
After peddling and abusing drugs from North Carolina to Miami, Cheron hit rock bottom in the early 1990s when she found herself in one of the roughest parts of D.C. trying to buy drugs at 4 a.m.
Her sister helped her get into a treatment program, and she relapsed once, but she has been clean for more than 17 years.
She and Edwin Sr. separated in 1995 yet remained active in the lives of their children. He is a director of a juvenile center, and she is a compliance consultant.
''I'm so proud of them,'' Edwin said. ''It shows that people can always change who they are, even if you feel you're in the lowest spot in your life.''
If nothing else, Edwin Jr. has learned perspective from his parents, which is why he didn't panic when the Redskins released him.
He was saddened to leave the organization he rooted for, yet he was excited about venturing off on his own.
With the Bears, aside from occasional family visits, Edwin was on his own, responsible for washing clothes, maintaining his SUV and shopping for groceries and toiletries.
''People used to get things done for me,'' Edwin said.
Now he is focused on his job and his diet.
''Things have just been working out,'' he said, ''but I just take one day at a time.''