Jace Sternberger, Dexter Williams took rocky roads to Packers

GREEN BAY, Wis. – For Jace Sternberger, his second chance came at Texas A&M after things didn't work out at his first school, Kansas. Dexter Williams got a second chance at Notre Dame, the same school where he had started his collegiate career, but it came after some serious missteps.

So it's fitting that the two come in together for their first shot in the NFL.

More important, however, is that for the Green Bay Packers, they’re the only two offensive skill position players they’ve added this offseason in either free agency or the draft.

They will be bound by what they do from here forward, not by their pasts. But it’s what happened heretofore that helped them reach this point.

Sternberger, the third-round pick who’s expected to bring a youthful dynamic to a veteran tight end group, washed out at Kansas after two years and then resurfaced at Texas A&M following a junior-college stop. He blossomed under coach Jimbo Fisher, with 48 catches, 832 yards and 10 touchdowns, and left school a year early.

Williams, a sixth-rounder, could give new coach Matt LaFleur another viable running back option to go along with third-year pros Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.

“First starting with Jace, he’s got a pretty cool skill set in the fact he’s a tight end that can separate,” LaFleur said after the draft. “Any time you’ve got those types of guys, it becomes a little bit of a matchup nightmare for a defense. And then Dexter, got a lot of history with having coached at Notre Dame, and just his ability to be a one-cut runner – which is what we’re looking for. I think he was, quite frankly, I was a little surprised he was still there.”

Here's a look at the two skill position players – and their backstories – that the Packers added:

Sternberger (6-foot-4, 251 pounds, 4.75 40-yard dash)

In two years at Kansas, Sternberger redshirted as a freshman and then caught just one pass for five yards as a sophomore. He left for Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, where he caught 21 passes for 336 yards and six touchdowns in one season.

“I was actually on my third offensive coordinator at Kansas; it just wasn’t the best fit overall,” Sternberger said. “I always dreamed of playing big-time college football, and I felt like the juco was the best way for me to get re-recruited by everybody.”

Enter Fisher.

At the time, he was still at Florida State but was in the process of taking the Texas A&M job. Either way, he wanted Sternberger.

“From there, it was mid-November and I cut off all recruiting and it was straight Jimbo only,” Sternberger said. “So he technically never came out to my juco, it was strictly over the phone. That’s how we developed our trust. I committed to him over the phone.”

Sternberger was NFL-ready after just one season. The Packers picked at him at No. 75 overall, making him the sixth tight end taken in the draft.

"There’s a reason I left early: because I felt like I was the best tight end in this draft class," Sternberger said. "So I have a lot of work to prove out for me, but I’ve always been in a situation where I want to take challenges head-on and that’s what I plan to do here, and just prove to Green Bay they made the right pick.”

The Packers think Sternberger is a pass-catching tight end who also can play on the line, which is critical in LaFleur’s outside-zone run scheme. It gives them a building block at a position dominated by aging players Jimmy Graham (32) and Marcedes Lewis (34).

General manager Brian Gutekunst didn’t think he needed another receiver for Aaron Rodgers, but it’s clear he wanted another weapon in the passing game.

Williams (5-11, 212, 4.58)

The 2018 season didn’t start until the fifth game for Williams, who served a four-game suspension for team/school violations that have never been disclosed or reported. This came two years after he was arrested for marijuana possession.

His football life was in jeopardy and so was his home life. His mother, Cheryl, had just been diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension, the second terminal condition to afflict her. She already had been diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a condition that has a similar effect as ALS on the body.

Still, Cheryl left her home in Florida last fall and moved to South Bend, Indiana, to be with her son – a story that was documented by ESPN last fall.

“The reason why I have her with me is I’d say she’s my guardian angel, she going to be there just to help, to support,” Williams said shortly after he was drafted at No. 194 overall. “Like I said, at any given day I could lose my parents. So I just want to be able to share a lot of these moments, these times, with them as much as I can. And I want my mom to be able to see these games, see me play, just to be happy knowing her son is doing something he loves.”

Williams, of course, excelled after his suspension. He totaled 995 yards and 12 touchdowns in just nine games. He’s bringing that quality – and his mom – with him to Green Bay.

“We thought he could really press the edge,” Gutekunst said. “He’s an aggressive downhill runner that can press the edge, stick his foot in the ground and get north to south. You know, he had a lot of explosive plays and he was a finisher. Once he hit that crease, he seemed to finish. And so, yeah, those are some of the things we like to run. He’s got a nice build to him and I think his best football should be ahead of him.”