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Where Are They Now

Where Are They Now: Avery Williamson

Catch Up with the Jets Legend from Kentucky


After back-to-back 5-11 seasons, the Jets notched their first win of the 2018 campaign six months before the opening game thanks to free agency.

Choosing New York over Philadelphia and Indianapolis or re-signing with Tennessee, fifth-year veteran linebacker Avery Willamson agreed to a reported three-year $22.5 million contract.

"I saw that there was opportunity for me to benefit financially, but I also knew that the defense was solid," Williamson said. "I felt that the team was a piece away from being on top and felt like it's a good opportunity. New scenery. New team. I felt like it was going to be a good fit."

Like a glove.

Williamson, who had over 100 tackles in each of his four seasons with the Titans, 518 total to go along with 11.5 sacks, shined in only his third game as a Jet, when they traveled to Cleveland for a Thursday night nationally-televised battle with the Browns, and he had a game-high 14 tackles and team-high two sacks.

Three games later against Indianapolis at MetLife Stadium, Williamson intercepted Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and had a 36-yard return, helping the Jets win, 42-34.

He was understandably happy with the way things were beginning with the Green & White.

"Yeah, I was. To say the least," Williamson said. "I definitely felt like I was having an amazing start to my career there. I felt like my game went to another level."

After starting the season off with a 3-3 record, the Jets struggled and didn't play nearly at the level they hoped for, winning just once in their remaining 10 games.

Williamson, who led the Jets with what would be a career-high 120 tackles, however, pleased the coaches and fans, and despite being the new guy when the season began, was looked at as a leader by his teammates.

"You can be a vocal leader or a leader through play, and I tried to be a bit of both," he said. "I didn't want to be all talk. I knew that the team definitely needed some leadership, so I tried to do the best job that I could in every aspect.

"You're going to a team that hasn't had the success. We're hoping for success and it just doesn't seem to want to roll the right way. It definitely can be hard. And even as a leader, you can get kind of down, too. So it's definitely hard to keep everybody up in high spirits to continue to play throughout a long season."

The following season and in turn, the offseason, became even longer for Williamson. In the second preseason game against Atlanta, he was the only Jets starter on the field in the second quarter when he collided with cornerback Tevaughn Campbell in pass coverage and tore his ACL.

While that hit meant he was done for the year, New York's first-year head coach Adam Gase was taking more than a few hits of his own about why he'd have his star linebacker on the field in an early preseason game. The jabs, though, weren't coming from Williamson.

"I wasn't going to bash anybody in the media. I mean, I easily could have, but I just chose the high road," he said. "It sucked, but it's kind of just the way the cookie crumbles sometimes. Everybody in the NFL has stories of getting in and how they got out. So that was kind of, I guess you could say, the start of my getting out of the NFL. But, yeah, it definitely was a tough situation."

How'd he get through it?

"I would say God first, and then just the willpower to want to come back from it," Williamson said. "Because, honestly, I contemplated retirement during that process. But I said to myself, I don't want to be looking back 15, 20 years from now and saying, 'Damn, I wish I would have seen what could have happened if I hadn't given up at that moment.'

"So that's really what motivated me to get through that. And it definitely was a tough process. It was a very tough process. Something that I didn't expect to be that tough. You know, I didn't really know what was going to lie ahead. It took a lot longer than I expected to fully heal up from it."

After going through rehab and working his way back onto the field in 2020, following their game against Kansas City on November 1, Williamson, who had recorded a team-high nine tackles, literally discovered there's more than one way to turn a season around when the 0-8 Jets traded him to the 7-0 Steelers along with their seventh-round draft pick in 2022 for Pittsburgh's 2022 fifth-round pick.

"I kept hearing (about a possible trade). I really didn't know what was going to happen," Williamson said. "It was my contract year and I was trying to get ready to sign a new deal. Coming off my knee injury, I just kind of felt like I was really getting a break and getting a new opportunity. We had a really good team at the Steelers and I felt like it was opportunity to get back to the playoffs and win a Super Bowl."

The Steelers came up short, but Williamson's career certainly did not. Eight seasons in the NFL, he played in 96 games with 85 starts, totaling 607 tackles and four interceptions. Originally a fifth-round pick in 2014 out of Kentucky, what makes him most proud of his playing days?

"I would say the biggest thing would be being able to do what I set my mind to. I always said I wanted to sign a big free agent deal. I wanted to play 10 years. I made eight, but I definitely felt like it was a major accomplishment," Willamson said.

"And leading the team in tackles numerous years, I lived the dream that I always set my mind to. And now looking back, honestly, it's really big to see what I did. I wish it could have been longer. But overall, I definitely lived the dream that a lot of kids want to accomplish. Not many people can say that they have."

Now calling his hometown of Milan, TN, home again, Williamson, who has a 2-year-old son, Avery II, has a cattle farm and is involved in real estate.

"I'm trying to become a self-made entrepreneur," Williamson said. "I'm renovating my property and just trying to become a businessman. It can be difficult at times, but I have a passion for farming and I love taking old things and renovating them. And it's definitely exciting to see what different projects I can get into through real estate. Just doing things I love to do. So, yeah, it's kind of a little bit of a different vibe than in Jersey. But overall, I'm enjoying it."

Williamson has also discovered that he enjoys coaching, and began doing so as a volunteer at Jackson Christian High School last fall.

"I was coaching the linebackers. It was actually pretty fulfilling and a way for me to get back into football," Williamson said. "I haven't thought about taking it to the next level of college and pros, but I definitely felt a lot of joy being able to come back to the game and teaching the kids some of the things I've learned over the years.

"I got a lot of excitement from seeing our linebackers make plays. I said, 'Hey, you're coachable, you listen,' and then it's fun actually seeing it happen. I was definitely thrilled to see that I could actually not just play the game, and without putting pressure on a person, see them go out and do it."