As former California cornerback Steve Williams walked away from his first 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, he saw a legendary defensive back hurriedly making his way towards him. Williams -- despite his slow, relaxed Texas drawl -- is hard to catch, but he wasn't about to run away from Deion Sanders.
"I saw Deion looking at me the whole time when I was walking, and I figured that, maybe, I ran a fast time, or maybe I ran a really slow time," Williams says. "I'm walking down, and he's looking at me, and I see him with a wild look on his face, and he said, ‘Son, do you know what you just ran?' I said, ‘I don't know,' because they don't show the times at the Combine. He said, ‘Real fast,' and I kind of walked off a little bit, and I looked back on the TV that they had, and they had Deion to ask me if I ran track, and I did run track, and he said, ‘What time did you think you were going to run?' And I said, 4.3, and he said, ‘Quit lying.' So, I said, ‘OK, I was going to run a 4.2.' That was a highlight."
Williams's time was later adjusted to a 4.42, but was then later changed again to a 4.34.
When Williams showed up at Lucas Oil Stadium, he knew he had to run. He knew he had to be fast. He knew he had to stand out. He didn't have a choice, because there was one thing he refused to run from: Responsibility.
When Williams declared early for the 2013 NFL Draft -- where he was taken with the 145th pick overall by the San Diego Chargers -- he wasn't thinking about the possibility of raising his stock by coming back for his senior season, making more money, the current depth chart, the new coaching staff or the potential to put up better numbers; None of that mattered. The only factor that played into his decision is a little girl, less than a year old, named Lia -- Williams's Little Princess.
"I've been running all my life," said Williams. "The Combine was a good showing for me, because I don't think many people knew who I was, so I ran a good time, and I think some people were surprised, but I wasn't surprised. I was confident in my running ability."
As fast as Williams is -- clocking a hand-timed 4.25 40 at the Combine which drew ebullient praise from Sanders -- as much as he loves running, he wasn't going to run from his duties as a father.
"When I came out early, I felt that, because of my personal situation with my daughter, taking her to the doctor, getting insurance, taking care of her, stuff like that, it would distract me from the school side," Williams said. "At Cal, you've got to have full focus, because it's an academic school. It was taking away from her, and I felt that the best situation for me was to come out ... If she ever needed a doctor, it would be hard to deal with her in that circumstance at Cal."
Lia lives in Oakland, with her mother, so when Williams was finally taken by the San Diego Chargers with the 145th pick overall in the 2013 NFL Draft, it was a relief. He'll get to stay close to his daughter. He'll get to provide for her.
"Providing for her was a big part of [leaving early]," Williams says. "I just wanted to know that she'd be in a safe place, and know that I'm there for her. That's all I wanted. I know I can play football, and I'll continue to get better with the coaching staff, so I'm just really excited for her ... It's a great feeling to know that my daughter will only be a few hours away, and I can see here whenever."
His choice to leave early was not a reflection on the Bears, who gave Williams his shot to play big-time college football. He looks back on his time in Berkeley fondly, in fact.
"Playing for coach [Jeff] Tedford was probably the best experience of my life," says Williams. "I felt like he was the best head coach that I ever had. I just felt like his system was the best for me. He had confidence that I could play, and coach [Clancy] Pendergast had confidence that I could play, coach [Ashley] Ambrose -- those guys helped me get to where I am right now, and I really appreciate everyone at Cal."
Now, he'll get to start out on a new adventure, alongside once-and-future teammate Keenan Allen, who went to the Bolts in the third round with the 76th overall pick.
"It's a great feeling," says Williams. "I'm excited to get down there and compete for a job. It's nice to know that Keenan's going -- a player that I played with -- and I'm just excited."
Williams ranked first among cornerbacks at the Combine with a 40.5-inch vertical leap, fourth in the broad jump (108.0"), eighth in the 20-yard shuttle (4.10) and 12th in the 3 cone drill (6.89), while the 4.42 adjusted 40 ranked ninth. Overall, his vertical leap was third among all Combine participants.
In 37 games (28 starts) over his three seasons for the Bears, Williams broke up 25 passes (sixth in school history), 150 tackles, 9.0 tackles for loss, 1.0 sack, six picks (45 return yards), 31 passes defended and three forced fumbles. The Chargers like Williams as a nickel or dime back, and were quite taken with his cover skills.
"I know that they needed a corner, and I was excited that they picked me, but I don't know how they want to work me in, and what position they want me to play, whether they want me to play inside or outside," says Williams. "I feel I can play both, but it definitely depends on how the team wants to work me in. I'm up for anything."
Even, he says, returning punts, which he never had a chance to do at Cal.
"I would definitely look into it and see what the coaching staff feels about me returning. I think I could definitely be a factor in the game," says Williams. "I'm a playmaker. I can tackle on the edge. I can make plays on the deep ball. I can intercept the ball. I can cause fumbles. I'm just looking forward to being with guys playing around me that play at a high level. With that, I feel that I can make more plays."
Williams Won't Run From Responsibility
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