A small-town kid growing up, former Clemson receiver Mike Williams is now preparing for the biggest stage a football player can reach.
Born in Vance, S.C., a town with a population of about 200 people, Williams played in front of approximately 400 times as many people in Death Valley on Saturdays.
After finishing his collegiate career as one of Clemson’s most decorated receivers in history, Williams is at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Ind., trying to boost his projected first-round stock in this April’s NFL Draft.
He’s on the verge of accomplishing a lifelong dream by becoming an NFL player, and he wants to be an example for youngsters in his hometown and other kids who are growing up like he did.
“That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to be that example for the kids back home where I’m from,” Williams said Friday during an interview on NFL Network’s “Total Access”. “I’m from Vance, South Carolina, and not too many people make it out. So, I’m just trying to set an example for kids that you can go to college, you can graduate and you can just chase your dreams.”
Toughness is one of the traits that got Williams to where he is.
Williams, of course, missed all but one drive of the 2015 season after suffering a broken neck in the season opener, before bouncing back last season with 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns.
His resiliency and toughness was on full display at the end of the season in the national championship game against Alabama.
In the first quarter, Williams caught a pass and absorbed a brutal blow from Alabama’s Tony Brown, a hit that fit the definition of targeting but wasn’t called. Williams had to leave the game, and it was questionable at first whether he would return.
Williams returned, though, and made a huge impact. He put up eight receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by several incredible catches in critical moments down the stretch.
“Just to play this game, you have to have toughness,” Williams said. “I mean you’re going to go out there and you’re going to take some hard licks, but you just have to go out there and fight with your brothers. I took a lick in the Alabama game. I just had to get back up and fight. I watched guys like Steve Smith go out and compete every day, and I just want to be like those guys.”
Williams, along with Deshaun Watson, Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett, will participate in their on-field workouts at the combine on Saturday.
News came today that Williams will not run the 40-yard dash tomorrow and instead will run it on March 16 at Clemson’s pro day. A slower time could hurt his draft position, and his decision has drawn criticism from some pundits who question his speed relative to other receivers in the draft.
Williams explained his decision, citing hits like those he took against Alabama as one of the reasons he isn’t running.
“I’ve just had a long season, played 15 games, and got kind of banged up,” Williams said. “So I went into training kind of late, so I’m just going to prepare next week for the 40 and then run it at my pro day.”
His speed is about the only question scouts have about Williams. His prototypical size, ball skills and ability to go up and grab catches make him one of the best receivers in the draft, if not the best.
Having arrived at this point in his life, Williams doesn’t plan to stop working now.
“I’m (working on) my break points, getting the most separation at the top of my routes,” he said. “I’m still working to get better, but that’s probably the main difference, just working on break points and coming out my routes quicker.”