I want to be like Mike Williams

A year away from football hasn't diminished the stature of former USC receiver Mike Williams. He still stands tall at 6-foot-5 and his impressive college credentials are not easily dismissed, despite being away from the competition for a year.

Amazingly, in just two years of football for the Trojans, Mike Williams ranks fourth on the all-time receptions list with 176, fifth in team annals with 2,579 receiving yards and first in career touchdowns with 30. He was also the only Trojan with 2 seasons of 80-plus catches.

Did we mention it only took two years to ammass those totals?

Following his 2003 All-American season, he applied for the NFL draft as a second-year sophomore based on a court ruling that struck down the NFL's requirement that its players had to be out of high school for three years. But he was not selected because of a judicial stay on that ruling. Then, when that ruling was overturned in the late spring, he sought to have his collegiate eligibility restored by the NCAA (he had become ineligible because he had signed with an agent and had not enrolled in classes in the 2004 spring semester). As of early August, he was awaiting the NCAA's ruling.

The year off turned into a year of development along a different path. While he was excluded from playing football, he was taken under the wing by several veterans of the NFL, including former Vikings great Chris Carter.

"I learned a lot of things from him, as far as my route running and just my approach to the game," said Williams. "With this year off, the biggest thing to my advantage was, I spent the last few months making the transition to the next level a lot easier, compared to just worrying about how fast I could run."

One thing that didn't need to be taught was athleticism. Williams hit the highlight reels each week he played during his USC career, going up for the catch in traffic and finding a way to come down with the ball.

He attributes that to his background on the hardwood. In basketball, they term it boxing out but in football it is the ability to shield the defenders from the ball.

"I credit that strength to basketball, having a basketball background and playing it for so long," Williams said. "You learn coordination and moving with the ball and getting in position as far as rebounding and things like that. I just kind of apply my basketball background to football. I think I move so well, and that's why I made guys miss for my size. I think that's one of my advantages."

Favorably compared to NFL Pro Bowlers Terrell Owens and Randy Moss, Williams doesn't shy away from the challenges that face him.

He also understands that his legacy will be defined by how he plays the game and not his likeness to Owens or Moss.

"I'd bring my own attitude, my own playing style, and my own demeanor about myself and just really be me," he said. "I think the comparisons are inevitable; you're going to get them regardless of what team you go to or what you do. But at the end of the day you still have to put in your work, and you've got to establish yourself on a team."

On most draft boards he is a top ten pick. Last year, he would have been a lock to go in the top ten and would have been fighting it out with Larry Fitzgerald over who would be the first wide receiver taken. The year has changed and Williams, a year removed from playing in a meaningful game, is still near the top of the list. He is dueling Michigan's Bryalon Edwards for the top honors amongst receivers.

A year off hasn't really taken too much of a toll on the former Trojan. The film simply doesn't lie. Williams is hopeful, but he remains realistic about where he ends up this April.

"I've had a long time to go over the situation," Williams reflected. "It's been a long time coming and to take my shirt off in front of the scouts and interview with these coaches and these GMs and things. It really is a blessing. Whether I'm top five, top ten, top 20, I mean, it doesn't really matter. I listened to Rich McKay say at our (Combine) orientation, 'it doesn't really matter where you're drafted as long as you go out and make plays and produce for your team.'"

It is his immense talent that has the rumor mill buzzing with possible trades involving teams outisde the top ten. Although Williams is modest, the thinking is he won't last long in the draft and if any team is serious about pursuing the potential superstar, they will have to move up to get their man.

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