Different Routes

In sandlots across America kids play football with worn pigskins. Voices cry out laying claim on NFL players as the next generation assumes the names of heroes they see on Sunday. "I'm Randy Moss," one will say. "I'm Marshall Faulk," another will chime in.

And each toe headed "Ute" will pretend to be someone of greatness. It's sandlot football that dates back to the flying wedge and Knute Rockne played out in backyards and on school grounds everywhere.

Seldom do these kids become the heroes they worship. With only 1700 slots available in the NFL, and less than 300 opening up each season, the odds are stacked against those that wish to dream.

Antonio Bryant grew up in the shadows of the University of Miami. He heard the cheers for the great receivers that suited up each Saturday in the fall. Names like Blades, Irvin, and Perriman, taken in the first round by teams in the NFL caused a boy to work and dream. He had definite role models that showed a kid the road to success.

Bryant chose to leave Florida and attend Pittsburgh. The offense, run by a former NFL quarterbacks coach in Walt Harris offered Antonio the opportunity to showcase is immense ability in a pro style offense.

Starting 8 of 11 games his first year he didn't fail to measure up. Named to the 1999 Freshman All-American team, Antonio caught 51 passes for 841 yards and six touchdowns. His fluid style and sure hands made him a serious threat every time he touched the ball.

His sophomore year brought both good and bad. He was suspended the first game of the season for unauthorized use of a university phone card. Yet Bryant came back to set the bar even higher than the year before on the gridiron.

He caught 68 passes for 1302 yards and 11 touchdowns in 10 games. He led the nation in receiving yards per game snagging 27 passes of 25 yards or more and 8 of 50 or more yards. Bryant also delivered 16 punt returns for 181 yards.

He was again named to the All-American team, the first for Pittsburgh in 15 years. Bryant was honored with the Biletnikoff Award for the top receiver in the nation. He was the first player in the history of the Pittsburgh Panthers to win the award.

His 130.2 yards per game and 1302 total receiving yards set a record for the Big East formerly owned by Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison of Syracuse University.

His junior year was plagued by injury in a similar fashion as Cowboys starting quarterback Quincy Carter. Spraining both ankles and suffering an Achilles injury, his production dropped to 42 catches for 459 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Yet Antonio came back to post a 7 catch 101-yard game in the Tangerine Bowl. His performance, including two touchdowns, won him Most Valuable Player.

Antonio declared for the draft in 2002 and worked-out at the NFL combine. His forty times disappointed many of the scouts as he ran first a 4.64 and then a 4.59. Yet some NFL draft experts suggest he runs in the 4.4's, which would account for his ability to separate and get deep on defenders.

The comparisons are noteworthy on this product of Florida and Pittsburgh. Mike Detillier, a player analyst and draft guru for Football World suggests he was one of colleges most ready for the NFL. He compares Bryant to Eric Moulds and states that if Bryant hadn't had several off field issues he would be a top 12 pick.

Len Pasquarelli said Bryant was one of the most gifted receivers in this year's draft.

TSN mentioned Bryant as another Keyshawn Johnson and Houston Pro Football likened him to Randy Moss, both on the field and off.

Randal Williams's road to the Dallas Cowboys is vastly different from Antonio Bryant. He grew up in The Bronx, New York.

He played both split end and defensive end for Deerfield Academy as well as run track. Williams eventually won a silver medal in the New England Prep School Championship in the 100-yard dash.

After high school he attended the University of New Hampshire, a far cry from a school like Pittsburgh.

Williams played both wide receiver and running back for the Wildcats. He was the third leading ball carrier for New Hampshire as a senior. He also posted 10 catches for 258 yards. Williams took on the duties of kick returner averaging 16.8 yards per return.

Undrafted, Randal joined the Jacksonville Jaguars immediately after the 2001 draft. He showed promise and the Jags, overloaded at wide receiver, attempted to stash him on their practice squad.

Several teams vied for Williams but he was selected by the Cowboys during the 2001 campaign, to the displeasure of the Jacksonville coaching staff and management.

This off-season Randal Williams has worked with Joe Juraszek, the strength and conditioning coach for the Cowboys. Williams added 15 pounds of muscle yet retained the foot speed he is noted for.

At 230 pounds he may be the answer Dallas has been seeking to the possession receiver they have lacked since the retirement of Michael Irvin.

Both Bryant and Williams will be attending their first training camp with the Cowboys this summer. Bryant has the easier path being a second round draft choice with loads of potential.

But Williams may have found the one spot in the NFL with a future. Both Rocket Ismail and Joey Galloway, the starters for Dallas are in their 30's. The youth movement is well under way and this is perhaps the last season in Dallas for Ismail.

Galloway, a player taken in a trade with Seattle cost the Cowboys two number one draft picks. He is one of the reasons Dallas has been so anemic on draft days for the past several years.

His performance in 2002 along with his salary cap hits in coming years may affect the coaching staffs view of Joey as a real possibility to be a cap casualty cut after this season. His lack of production since arriving has been a huge disappointment for the team.

Wide receivers run routes and Bryant and Williams have taken different routes to end up in the stables of the Cowboys.

Both personal and team goals will drive these two young players to be the best they can be.

And perhaps sometime in the near future there will be kids on playgrounds and in backyards that will call out, "I'm Antonio Bryant. I'm Randal Williams."

For the Cowboys and their fans, they certainly hope this pair reaches that destiny.

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