”I guess it’s the hair,” Williams said. “It’s like a lion and stuff like that. My name is Leo like Leo the lion. I am not exactly sure where it came from. It may have been the [USC] announcers. It’s pretty cool. I like it so far."
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Football almost didn’t come to fruition for this California native. Born out west, Williams actually grew up in Florida, specifically Daytona Beach. There, he was always too big to play football and actually got his start in another spot.
”I was too big for Pop Warner,” Williams said. There was a weight limit and I was over it. As a young boy it made me sad. Playing football was all boys dream. It was hard.
”My weight was 180 and I was big kid that was already 210-pounds. I couldn’t cut 30 pounds to play football. So I played rugby for state team. I loved it. It taught me the physical stuff before football so I know it helped a lot.”
It certainly did for Williams. He starred on the Space Coast of Florida, where he became one of the most sought after defensive linemen in high school once he could actually play the game. Then, Southern Cal won a big recruiting battle over Florida, Auburn and others.
Once he made the jump to USC he had star written all over him. Williams played for a bevy of top flight coaches and coordinators. In the end, it all helped him to become the player he is today.
“I had three defensive line coaches in Pete Jenkins, coach [Ed Orgeron] O and Chris Willson,” Williams said. “I had three defensive coordinators and three different schemes. They moved me around a lot. I think a lot of my versatility came from it.
”I starting to make a name for myself as a freshman and then my sophomore year came. So did the press and the hype. Coach O said I was one of the best defensive linemen he has ever coached. To hear that for a legend coach like that, that’s when I started knowing I could be one of the best defensive linemen, if I put my mind to it.”
Now his full attention is on the draft and becoming the highest pick as possible. Williams knows that’s a challenge in itself, especially considering the Bucs own the top pick and they have a huge need at quarterback. Players like Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota are staying Tampa Bay right in the face.
“There is a competition with the quarterbacks. It’s a different position,” Williams said. “Sometimes teams are taking a chance with a QB because you never know what you get. With me I bring disruption, a physicality and get after the quarterback.
”It [being top pick] would mean a lot for me. I expect to be as high as possible. I have high expectations of myself. The same with my coaches and my family. I want to go as high as possible. I would love to go No. 1.”
At the end of the day it was a difficult decision to leave USC and the Trojan family. But in the end he wanted to take care of his family, specifically his mother.”She was a single mother who raised five children,” Williams said. “So this means a lot. She was a strong single parent who had five kids all my size. I am sure it was hard for her to put all that food on the table. One day I want to repay her.”
That will happen soon for Williams, as the riches of the NFL will be here soon enough. His dreams will become reality. For Williams, it’s all surreal.
“It really hasn’t sunk in,” Williams said. “I just try and soak it in. There is so much going on that I can’t think about the past or the future. I just want to live in the moment. At the same time I know I will be playing against guys doing this for a living. I am 20-years old and about to join a league where they are doing it as a profession. It’s going to be a tough competition.”
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