The Atlanta Falcons drafted a small, speedy wide receiver in the fifth round of the NFL Draft Thursday night. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound wideout from North Carolina State was the fifth of six players the team selected. “She always told me how it was like to work on a TV show. I was young, and I didn’t understand what that meant, but I’ve understood the values she instilled in me since I was a kid. And I think that’s going to serve me well here as a player, and it’s just going to help me get to the next level.”
This week, the Rams selected Georgia running back Sony Michel in the first round of the NFL Draft, and the Falcons followed suit by selecting a linebacker from the University of Georgia in the fourth round. While the young Falcons and Rams have a lot to learn in their first seasons as professionals, there are some lessons they can take from their mothers.
The Saturday after the 2021 NFL Draft, Pam Veasey’s phone rang and her son was on the other end of the line. She expected to get a video call later in the day, but it seemed too soon. Then she picked up the phone and asked Avery Williams: How does it work?
Williams put his head down. Weezy saw the Atlanta Falcons logo on the baseball cap. She couldn’t believe it: Atlanta selected his son in the fifth round. Mother and son couldn’t be together at this important time – Williams wanted nothing to do with the draft and Vesey’s job kept her in Atlanta – but she saw all the work he did on his way.
After they hung up, Vesey’s phone started ringing. Actors, directors, producers and crew members sent text messages of congratulations and, in some cases, incomprehension.
Williams’ story is a good one. Williams was overlooked by universities in high school, but at Boise State he was the Mountain West Special Teams Player of the Year and a possible NFL player as a running back/cornerback. Hollywood was interested in his story, but not for the big screen.
It was more selfish. Williams grew up among these people through Wisey’s work as executive producer of The District from 2000 to 2004 and CSI: New York City from 2004 to 2013.
When Avery was recruited, all these writers said: Is this the guy who beat me at Nerf basketball and just got recruited? Weezy said. That’s what I’m saying: Yes, it’s him.
Williams did not have a typical childhood. After graduating from high school at Campbell Hall in Studio City, California, he and his brother Mason drove less than a mile to the CBS Studio Center, where they reunited with their mother and spent hours in the writers’ offices and on set.
To them it was normal. Vizay has worked in Hollywood for decades, first as a writer and producer of comedies, including the series In Living Color, and then in the dramatic genre. Many sons and daughters of actors and actresses attended his school – and the children of stars.
Williams acknowledged that it might be unique, but he knew of no other way.
I didn’t take it for granted and I knew it was a different field, Williams said. But I just grew up with him.
I don’t have a high opinion of it, but looking back, I can say that it definitely helped me build my life in terms of character.
When school and soccer practice were over, Vesey or her assistant Margaret Fujii would pick up Mason and Avery and bring them to the office. There, Vesey persuaded them – sometimes without much success – to do their homework.
There was a little bit of everything to keep them entertained as they integrated into the production ecosystem and communicated with everyone involved in making CSI : NEW YORK.
They said: Hey, guys, how’s football? How was school, Mason said. It was really cool. When my mom is on the show, she really loves family. Consistency is very important. It’s a very peaceful atmosphere with her.
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The brothers played Nerf basketball in the writers’ room, and the writers joined in from time to time. They fought. On the grounds, they rode golf carts – production assistants helped train them – which sometimes led to Weasey getting calls from security that her kids were too young to drive. They opened Craft Service, which Mason described as a dining set similar to football practice tables, but multiplied by five.
My fondest memories are of my brother and me riding around the studio in a golf cart with my mother’s assistant, Williams says. They have free food and snacks on the tray or something. That was… You can imagine how cool that sounded to me as a kid.
On set, they played with Gary Sinise, the star of the show and the man they admired as Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump. They sat in actor Eddie Cahill’s trailer and watched him play Grand Theft Auto. Later, Williams told Weezy he wanted Grandpa Fardo, and she finally realized he had said Grand Theft Auto.
After the show ended, Avery and Mason accompanied their mother to the mix, which was actually a small movie theater with candy and popcorn, to watch the final version.
For Wisey, it was a way to spend time with his children during the long television hours, introducing them to his industry and helping them understand the work.
Every morning in high school – Williams and his brother went to a different school in the Los Angeles area where they grew up – Weezy and his sons would get in the car and drive an hour from their home in Pasadena to school and work.
During these walks, Vizy sometimes muttered to herself. She was always working, and that was part of her process. So when an idea came to her, she would speak it out loud to memorize it and see if it sounded right, then convert it from voice to page in the office.
Without knowing it, his sons noticed. They saw how she combined her duties and still managed to serve snacks at football games.
And how she made sure they had the most beautifully decorated trunk for the Halloween contest at Don Benito Elementary School. They got first prize, because of course the art department at Hollywood would get first prize.
We made a graveyard for that crazy head sticking out of the trunk, Vesey said. At the end of the trunk was a graveyard, there was a house, lanterns and dead trees. The art department made this part of dead grass and we placed these headstones, then we had a prosthetist make a head and I installed it at the end.
And people thought it was real. The kids tiptoed over to him, grabbed the candy and ran. It was a big hit because we had what looked like a live head in a box or a treat.
Vesey made it clear to the staff that children – theirs and others – were welcome at the shows. There was a show dog on one of them. She always wanted it that way, ever since she got the crib in the conference room when Mason was a baby.
In Living Color, before Williams and Mason were born, the hours were long. The competition to make a comedy was fierce. Vesey co-wrote the first Wanda skit with Michael Anthony Snowden and the man who created the character, Jamie Foxx. She has written parodies of music videos and the B.S. brothers, played by David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson.
The show launched the careers of many actors, including Fox, Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans, while Jennifer Lopez and Carrie Ann Inaba were the Fly Girls and Rosie Perez choreographed and directed.
Neither Williams nor Mason interviewed Weezy about In Living Color. It was never recorded for them – it was before they were born. When they saw his work, he went from humorous to serious.
I wanted to write a drama, Weezy said. It was like, how do you get from this great show to something else? I went to the theater and showed them I could do it. But it’s a complicated intersection.
They said: You’re a comedy writer. I’d say so: No, I’m a writer. I can do almost anything. So I went on to calculate the next change.
It was this attitude – the belief that you can do anything if you have a plan – that brought Williams and Mason together. Wisey had many sayings – Organization is the way to get things done – and he preached verbalizing goals to achieve them.
As a child, Vesey, who has always had a passion for sports, had her sons read chapters from John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success during vacations.
We got to see firsthand how she works, how she runs the show, actually, Williams said. And how she handles her leadership role. You sit and take it all in, and it fades away when you’re in that environment and start learning things.
Avery Williams, a fifth-rounder, has a chance to contribute immediately in the Falcons’ return game. Dale Zanin/USA TODAY Sports
Mason said it affected his brother more than the mother or son would think. Both make lists of goals and hang them in places – Williams on the bathroom mirror and on a chalkboard in his bedroom, Vesey on sticky notes on the sides of his desktop computer – where they are always in view. Their calendars are in the same places in their rooms, always in plain sight.
Wisey’s mantras prevailed. The same goes for the time Williams spends in the studio watching the actors rehearse the same scene over and over again before recording it. Williams attended his mother’s meetings where they analyzed and edited scripts. He saw how everything was thought out to perfection, how they were not afraid to criticize in order to improve the product.
You can imagine how stressful that can be, Williams says. And if you watch them do it, you can’t do anything at the last second and get good results, and that goes for sports too.
At Boise State, Williams occasionally attended coach meetings under Brian Harsin. It reminded him of his encounters with his mother. The general objectives were the same. As he continued to work at Boise State and play an increasingly important role, Williams applied the same lessons.
Vesey watched the action and happily held her son’s helmet in the corner as he handed out autographs.
After the phone calls and messages subsided, Wisey was stricken: She may have been in Atlanta early, where Williams filmed her latest project as showrunner for Slow Exhale, starring Rose Rollins and Josh Lucas.
Weezy was agitated. Like the current team – made up mostly of Falcons fans – who asked when we could see and meet him? But because she has the same ambitions as he does, they have barely seen each other since Williams was drafted into the army. They spent time together after the last OTA and over Memorial Day weekend.
Vesey understood, even if Mason had to tell her to stop calling, because mothers were still mothers, and she wanted to make sure he didn’t need anything.
He’s going to the camp, Weezy said. He’s caught in the vortex of Avery’s attention.
Filming for their show will be completed in August, two days before Williams’ preseason opener against Tennessee. That means she’ll be in training camp. If Williams allows it, she will stay for her first NFL game.
Her son will tell her if she can come to practice or the season opener. That’s the way it’s always been, and that’s why he didn’t want to be drafted. He sees it as a step, not a goal. As part of the plan, not the whole plan. Something he learned from his mother, whose success he at least wants to follow.
They understand that they have similar professions. People can only see the finished product – on TV with Weezy, on the field with Williams – but the real work is in the preparation.
Williams first saw it on a movie set, then in college and now in his own professional career.
The more hard-working employees you have around you, the more successful you are, Williams said. Surrounding yourself with people who don’t fit your criteria doesn’t make you a better person. I think it was natural to be around her and all the work she still does. It’s really motivating.
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