Shortly after graduating from high school, Sylvester Williams got a job at a factory in St. Louis that manufactured radiator parts for diesel engines.
He actually didn’t mind the work, and he was making pretty good money for a kid just a year removed from receiving his high school diploma. But Williams knew he was capable of so much more.
“I think the biggest thing for me was working in that factory, all those long hours,” said Williams at the NFL Combine, “it’s eight hours a day where you really got nothing to do but stand at a station at work and have nothing but time to think.
“So just thinking all that time, and I looked at the people that was around me, and I seen a lot of older people that had been there 30 years, 20 years, and I just told myself that I didn’t want to be that person 20 years from now looking at my life, and all my life did was stay on a straight path. I wanted to have my life always going uphill.”
To that end, Williams decided to make a change in his life. He put in his two week notice at the factory and enrolled at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas just days before the spring semester was about to start.
Williams had previously sent the coach at Coffeyville film from his senior year in high school in which he started only one game. Admittedly, Williams said he wasn’t a very good football player in high school, but something had clicked inside of him, and he he wasn’t about to let an opportunity pass him by.
“I drove to Coffeyville and showed up at his door,” said Williams. “He just kind of looked at me like, ‘Who are you?’
“I kind of told him he wasn’t expecting me to come, but for me, that was motivation. I didn’t look at it as I don’t have a chance. I look at it as a challenge for me to take on in my life, because I had left behind everything I had.”
After two years of solid play at Coffeyville, Williams received a scholarship offer from North Carolina, and he made the most of the situation.
First and most importantly to Williams, he earned a degree in communications at Chapel Hill. But on top of that, he put together two more solid seasons at North Carolina that put him in position to possibly come a first round draft choice in next week’s NFL Draft.
In his two years as a Tar Heel, Williams made a combined 96 tackles, 20.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks, all of this despite a nagging ankle injury that he fought through for much of 2012.
Known as a player that’s quick off the football and able to create a disruption in an opponent’s backfield, it could be argued that Williams’ best fit is defensive tackle in a 4-3 defensive scheme at 6-3 and 313 lbs.
During his pre-Combine conference call with reporters, Mike Mayock of the NFL Network speculated that the Minnesota Vikings could consider Williams in the first round.
“If you’re talking about defensive tackles, if any of the top three, Sharrif Floyd, Star Lotulelei, Sheldon Richardson was there, I’d jump all over them,” said Mayock. “I think they’ll be gone by the time Minnesota gets on the board at 23. That means Sylvester Williams, Kawann Short and Johnathan Hankins are potential D-line tackles. All three of them are gifted and talented kids and would fit what Minnesota does.”
Seeing as the Vikings own two out of the three picks immediately preceding the Green Bay Packers at No. 26 overall, Green Bay will likely be looking at a similar group of defensive linemen on their draft board when they’re on the clock.
While Williams may fit best at the three-technique shaded to the outside shoulder of the offensive guard in a 4-3 defense, the Packers spend so much time in their nickel and dime subpackages that the former Tar Heel could fit what they do as well.
Defensive line is arguably among the Packers’ biggest needs this offseason after getting burned by the likes of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and 49ers quarterback Colin Kapernick on the ground last season and being mediocre pass rushers.
Furthermore, five Packers defensive linemen––B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett, Mike Neal, C.J. Wilson and Johnny Jolly––are all entering the final years left on their contract in 2013.
Williams doesn’t know what round he’ll go in or what team he’ll end up with, but there’s a decent chance the Packers will be faced with the decision of whether or not to select the former St. Louis factory worker.
“I can’t predict the future, but I know the past, and I know where I don’t want to be in life,” said Williams. “So I can never say where I’m going to end up in the future, but it’s definitely going to be better than what my past was. All I can do is continue to better myself everyday in the sport of football and life in general. And hopefully someday God will bless me to do something great with my life.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” and editor of Cheesehead TV’s “Pro Football Draft Preview.” To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.