Juice Williams Still Has NFL Dreams

The National Football League is the ultimate destination for football players, but pro teams are extremely selective. Only the best need apply. Even if you are a four year starting quarterback at a major university and led your team to the Rose Bowl, you have no guarantees. Juice Williams didn't have the senior season he expected, so now he is trying to impress pro scouts.

Juice Williams is the total offense leader at Illinois after an illustrious four year career. His name became a household word after leading the Illini to the 2008 Rose Bowl as a sophomore. But there are still concerns whether he can become a pro quarterback, especially after a senior season that failed to impress.

As a result, he was not invited to the Pro Combine where top players demonstrate their wares in front of all NFL teams. He was disappointed by the slight.

"Somewhat. I had so many expectations coming out of the season. I had a great feeling, but I didn't get the call. Everything happens for a reason. There's other ways to make up for the lost opportunity."

While that bruised his ego, Williams tried to make up for lost time at the Illini Pro Timing Day last Wednesday. A lot of workout hours preceded his big chance.

"It's a long process. You have to work out all day long, especially if you don't get invited to go to a combine or attend an all-star game.

"Most of the time, the last month and a half, I've been back here. Before that, I was out in Vegas, in Florida outside of Sarasota. I watched the Combine and then came back here. It's a pretty long time to be away from your family, especially when you've got a two year old daughter.

"It was worth it for me. Today was a lot of fun. We got to get out and prove to scouts what we could do. I felt I did fairly well."

He may have wanted his breakout to come in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine, but he felt a comfort level back at his old haunts.

"I try to build some type of confidence everywhere I go. But there's no place like home. It's comfortable being at home. You've got a lot of fast friends and teammates watching you. It was great. I wouldn't want to do it any other place."

Williams has a rifle arm, but he spent much of his four years operating out of a spread option offense that utilized his running skills. Opposing defenses bruised and battered him weekly, reducing his overall effectiveness.

He improved his passing accuracy greatly from when he first arrived on campus, but it was never a strength. Some pro teams wondered if he might be better at another position.

"Before today, there were still some teams unsure about me playing quarterback. Some of those guys were saying receiver, linebacker, something like that. But after today, there should be no doubt I can play the quarterback position. There's a few things I need to work on to get better, but I think I'll be fine."

What are some of the things he needs to improve?

"More technique things, getting away from the line the first couple steps, things like that. Accuracy-wise, I think I missed only one pass, and that was late. But everything else was good...accuracy, the trajectory of the ball, the zip on the ball. I think it went real well."

His offensive coordinator his first three years was Mike Locksley, who left after the 2008 season to become head coach at New Mexico. His replacement Mike Schultz wanted to emphasize moving the chains with high percentage passing, a style unfamiliar to Williams. He was not pleased with the change.

"That kind of bums me a little bit. I had high expectations for the season. It was very difficult to change from one philosophy to another. Locksley played to my strengths while Schultz' plays were more what he likes, what he's familiar with. It was hard to make it work. It got a little difficult at times. I lost confidence in myself."

Pro Timing Day gave Williams was his personal NFL Combine. He will now hope to work out with individual teams while waiting for the NFL draft. Whether he's drafted or must go the free agent route, he believes he will succeed if given a chance.

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