Williams set to finish what he started

Jafar Williams could do no wrong. Straight out of St. Mary's High School in Oakland, California, Washington head coach Jim Lambright immediately put Williams into the mix, one of eight true freshmen to see action in 1998. Then he became a started in 1999 and was cruising through the 2000 season until that fateful night in Tempe, Arizona. October 14, 2000, to be exact. The night Rich Alexis established himself as a player to be reckoned with, a veteran went down. It was Williams.

"I came in with (Jim) Lambright and his staff and was real pleased with them," Williams told Dawgman.com. "I got a great feel for them, but after my freshman year they were dismissed. (Rick) Neuheisel came in with his guys and at first I was a little scared but he said that they just wanted to watch football and get the best 11 guys on the field and that's what happened. I just had to work hard that spring and prove I was a football player to the new coaches."

Working hard is not something new to Jafar, but that night against Arizona State tested his mettle. An ankle injury suffered against the Sun Devils sidetracked a career that seemed to be headed for big things. "I missed the next week against Cal," Jafar said. "Throughout that year I was in a boot during the week and eased out of the boot on Fridays and played. I just toughed it out, and at my position where you have to go up against tight ends you need that firm grip to be able to plant. I never realized just how important my ankles were until the injury."

The ankle injury was just part of the problem for Jafar. "I also had a shoulder injury that year," he said. "That one wasn't as bad. I just put a harness on and toughed it out." The ankle was another story. The injury suffered against the Sun Devils set in motion a chain of events that forced Williams out of the 2001 season. "With the shoulder I knew stuff like that could happen," Jafar said. "With the ankle, it wasn't like a knee that you could repair. First we had to find a doctor that could tell me what was wrong with it. It got diagnosed four times. Finally we found a doctor that knew what was wrong with it but it was still up in the air after surgery. It could have gone either way - it could have been the same or it could have been better, so I gave it a shot. It took about a year and some change to get back to where I was."

Even then, Williams was not ready to put himself back in a situation that could sideline him further. Because of Lambright's decision in '98, Jafar had options. He chose to redshirt. "If I wasn't going to start 100 percent, I didn't want to go into it," he said. "I was about 85 percent going into two-a-days, but I didn't feel comfortable going through that. I wanted to start off 100 percent and I still had my redshirt and chose to use it. It was the best decision for me."

As it turned out, Jafar's best decision also reaped benefits for the University of Washington football team, circa 2002. With a lack of defensive identity, Williams brings up the lead of the old guard along with Ben Mahdavi. The two oldest linebackers are going to be counted on heavily to bring some senior leadership and direction to a group of players that have tremendous talent but lack the focus needed to take it all to the next level. "I think this team we have right now is a very talented team," Williams said. "The sky is the limit with this team, actually. We're just a young team right now so it's just a matter of controlling all this wild energy that we have and focus it. There are times when we're focused and there are other times when there are ten different conversations going on. My job as a veteran is to tell them, 'Hey, you're still learning, still playing. You've got to play with your mind. Be a student of the game,'.

"My main goal is to show these guys that we have all the athleticism in the world and that we have to focus it and work hard. If you don't work hard it can slip away. The other guys who are alright work hard and they become better than you because they've learned techniques that can beat athleticism. I just try to preach and teach to these guys that hard work pays off and no matter how good you are you still need to work hard and stay humble, not get too big headed."

When it comes to putting in the work and overcoming obstacles, the younger players have a true role model in Williams. His modesty comes through in his own goals for the season. "I just want to stay healthy and contribute as much as possible on and off the field and hopefully lead this team to great places."

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