Dynamic Dan

Tennessee won more than a national championship when it beat Florida State 23-16 on Jan. 4, 1999 in the Fiesta Bowl at Tempe, Ariz. It won a fan and, ultimately, a future nose tackle.

"The crazy thing was, back in '98 I was rooting for Florida State," Vol senior Dan Williams recalled this week. "But I always admired Tennessee - watching the Peyton Manning days when I was a kid. My grandparents live in Jackson, so I always heard about Al Wilson and the things he did.

"I was following 'em and I was a Tennessee fan; I just always liked Florida State better. After that (Fiesta Bowl) game I kind of switched over. I hopped on the bandwagon and ever since I've been a Tennessee fan."

Now a Vol senior, Williams faces his hometown school, the Memphis Tigers, Saturday night in Tennessee's homecoming game. That's probably a bigger deal to the folks back home than it is to him. Tiger fans consider him persona non grata and aren't shy about showing their disdain. For instance, he says he has learned to expect some grief if he wears UT gear while visiting Memphis-area malls.

"People are like, 'What are you doing with that on? You need to be taking that off when you come home. You leave that in Knoxville.'"

Those folks are polite, however, compared to one motorist Williams encountered while driving through Memphis with a UT license plate on the front of his truck.

"This lady would not move when the red light turned green," he recalled. "She waited until the last second. Then, when the light turned yellow, she pulled off so I got stuck by the red light."

Williams caught up with the offending motorist at the next red light only to get an earful from her.

"She said, 'You made the dumbest decision of your life,'" he recalled. "I thought that was funny but there's always a few that do stuff like that. Sometimes it's a little adventure going back home."

Playing for Tennessee has been an adventure, too. Williams reported to UT weighing 360 pounds in July of 2005.

"I looked at pictures and I didn't look that big," he recalled somewhat sheepishly. "I looked kind of slim, and everybody told me I carried it well."

Everybody except Tennessee's coaches. They told Williams to lose weight or prepare to spend four years riding the bench.

He redshirted as a freshman and got his weight down to 310. By the end of his junior year, however, Williams' weight had crept back up to 342. New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin told him he was too slow at that weight, so Williams dropped nearly 30 pounds between January and August.

The slimmed-down Williams ranks third among all Vols with 39 tackles this fall. He's clearly quicker on the pass rush, too, with a sack and seven quarterback hurries to his credit. Basically, he's a beast.

"Just about everybody on the offensive line has had a lot of trouble blocking Dan Williams," said senior guard Cory Sullins, who faces Williams every day in practice. "I believe he's the best defensive tackle in the SEC. A lot of people would probably say Terrence Cody (of Alabama) but they play different styles of games. Dan is almost unblockable. He's worked for everything he's gotten, and it's good to see him excel like he's doing."

Williams always had good strength and instincts. Now that he's more nimble, he's pretty much the whole package.

"Dan's a big guy but he's really quick and fast for how big he is," Sullins said. "He's exceptionally strong and knows how to play the game. He's very smart, knows how to play with leverage. All-around, he's just what you'd want in a defensive tackle. He's a great player."


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