Fresno State WR Paul Williams has the sort of size-speed combination for which NFL scouts search
(More than 320 standout college players put their skills on display at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. On the weekend of April 28-29, the vast majority of those players will hear their names called in the 2007 NFL Draft. During the months of March and April, Buccaneers.com will take a closer look at some of those names from the combine, and the stories behind them in our "Road to the Draft" series. These features are not meant to pinpoint the very top prospects in the draft, nor to reflect the Buccaneers' opinions or draft strategies. Any mention of draft-board status or a player's strengths and weaknesses are from outside sources, not the team's own scouting work. Currently featured: Fresno State wide receiver Paul Williams.)
In the midst of his preparations for the 2007 NFL Draft, Fresno State wide receiver Paul Williams has heard scouts question whether or not he is truly committed to playing on offense. An amiable and fun-loving sort, Williams has probably found it funny that they would be so…specific.
You see, it wasn't long ago that Williams questioned his own desire to play football at all, regardless position.
It was a natural and understandable reaction. Williams was a junior at Avenal High School in tiny Avenal, California when his brother, Curtis Williams, suffered a horrible accident while playing for the University of Washington Huskies. Paul was actually in the stands to witness Curtis attempt a goal-line tackle on Stanford fullback Kerry Carter only to sustain a spinal-cord injury that would leave him paralyzed. Nineteen months later, Curtis Williams died of complications from that injury.
Paul, the youngest of five boys and three girls in the Williams clan, was devastated, of course. His family had a long athletic history – older brother J.D. played cornerback on the Buffalo Bills' four Super Bowl teams – but Curtis was the closest brother to him in age. That injury to Curtis in October of 2000 almost made Paul give up the game.
"At first it did," he admitted. "But after talking with him when he was paralyzed, he wanted to watch me play. So I've been playing ever since. I didn't want to play at first; in my senior year I was going to call it quits. But he was like, 'No, I love to watch you play.' So he's watching me play now."
Paul eventually chose Fresno State, where J.D. played, over Washington, where he would have felt as if he were accepted for the wrong reasons. It didn't necessarily click for the youngest Williams player at FSU, either; he languished on the depth chart, played some at safety and cornerback and gave off the impression that he wasn't interested in offense.
But he is at heart an upbeat guy, which shined through at his interviews at the NFL Scouting Combine in late February. He has reasons to have a heavy heart – just months after J.D.'s death, Williams mother passed away due to Alzheimer's disease and his father died of a heart attack – but he still smiles big and says he "loves to have fun."
And he still loves the game. He wants to follow J.D.'s path into the NFL in order to fulfill the dreams that were stripped from Curtis on one fateful play.
"[Curtis' death] inspired me to go on and make it this far," said Williams. "Not a lot of people make it even this far. As long as I know he's up there still watching, I can do anything."
Most especially, Paul Williams can deal with adversity. Maybe that's why he seemed so at ease at the combine podium, despite the fact that he was in the middle of a week that could determine his draft position and earn or cost him millions of dollars. When you have one brother who has already traversed the NFL landscape and can offer the ultimate level of advice, and another who taught you how quickly everything can be taken away, you have an easy understanding of both ends of the football spectrum.
"I've learned to take everything in stride," said Williams. "You can't control what happens, so just deal with it to the best of your ability."
As for those questions about his desire to play receiver? Forget about them. Williams may have once wanted to follow in his brothers' defensive footsteps, but now he would like nothing better than an opportunity to line up against either of them, one-on-one. J.D. Williams may have established a good career in the NFL, but his much younger brother says that, even in his prime, he couldn't have covered him. "Never," said Paul. "Quote that: 'Never.'"
"I've got a different body type than my brothers. I'm the tallest one in my family, the most attractive. I just wanted to be different."
Williams had his breakout season at FSU in 2005, catching 43 passes for 729 yards and seven touchdowns. Perhaps more important to NFL scouts, he filled out to a chiseled 6-1 and 205 pounds and ran a 4.37 40-yard dash. He might have easily cemented his first-round status in 2006 had he not suffered through an injury-plagued season.
"Earlier in the season, about the third game in the season, I sprained my MCL," he explained. "That took me about four weeks to get healed, and then coming back from that I suffered an ankle sprain. It was just one of those seasons.
"Man, it was so frustrating. I think this offseason I possibly trained as hard as I've ever trained because I was expecting to have such a good senior season. I was just devastated when all those injuries started happening."
He ended up playing in seven games and catching just 21 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown. But he was healthy by the end of the season – that's the biggest question he had to answer all week at the combine – and was invited to the Senior Bowl, where he says he made a strong impression on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers coaching staff. The combine, said Williams, was a "second chance" to prove his value following that difficult 2006 campaign.
Williams would like to follow in the footsteps of another Fresno State wide receiver, current Chicago Bears deep threat Bernard Berrian. Berrian lasted until the third round in an extremely deep 2004 draft but has emerged as a star-in-the-making in Chicago.
"If you get a Fresno State receiver, you're getting a playmaker," said Williams with a wide grin. "That's the message we want to get across."
Just that he thinks of himself as a receiver might be enough for some scouts to hear. That he's still a football player at all is a testament to brotherly love.