A decade ago, Renard Williams returned to his Port Orchard home a shattered man. A shattered boy, anyway. Williams had been cut by the eighth-grade basketball team at Marcus Whitman Junior High School. That wasn’t easy for a kid who’d been dreaming of playing in the National Basketball Association.
“I quickly found out that I needed to take another route,” Williams says now.
Williams decided to change his dream to playing in the National Football League. A year from now, Williams’ NFL dream may be realized: the Eastern Washington defensive tackle is ranked No. 1 among Football Championship Subdivision (formerly NCAA Division I-AA) prospects for the 2012 NFL draft.
“Third or fourth round is what people have been throwing around, but that doesn’t mean anything,” says Williams, who is ranked No. 116 overall (fourth round) among 2012 draft prospects by NFLDraftScout.com.
“I could come out and have a horrible senior year and drop, or I could come out and have a hell of a senior year and move up.”
Eastern coaches and players are betting heavily on the latter.
“At this level, I’ve never seen anything close to the size to go along with the quickness and the explosion that he has,” coach Beau Baldwin says.
Linebacker Zach Johnson agrees. “It’s still amazing to see, and I’ve been around him for five years.”
Williams stands 6-foot-2 and weighs 305 pounds, give or take a ham sandwich. Basically, he’s a refrigerator with legs that move with bizarre speed and quickness for a man his size.
“The first look you take, ‘Ah, he’s not going to be very fast,’” Eastern center Chris Powers says. “The first thing he does is he shows you quick hands, a quick spin move over the back … You’re like, ‘What the hell just happened?’”
Williams earned first-team FCS All-America honors last season, and he’s a consensus first-team preseason All-American this year. Sporting News magazine predicts Williams will earn the Defensive Player of the Year award in the Big Sky Conference.
As affable off the field as he is ferocious on the field, Williams is quick to admit he wasn’t tough enough physically or mentally until last season — his first as a full-time starter.
“He’ll say his ‘motor’ wasn’t going like he wanted it to,” Baldwin says, “but even in those early years, there were still opposing coaches saying to me that he was the guy they feared the most.”
Williams recorded a career-high 54 tackles last season, despite drawing two or even three blockers much of the time. The extra attention caused his quarterback sacks to drop from 9 1/2 in 2009 to 6 1/2 last year, but Baldwin said that’s misleading.
“He has the ability to just disrupt the whole game,” Baldwin says. “I mean, he really does … He can make people behind him — I’m talking about linebackers and ultimately the secondary — he can make them great just by what he can do to disrupt the line of scrimmage.”
Williams is nearing completion of his communications degree. Marriage to longtime girlfriend/roommate Ashley Kvamme is “definitely” in the plans.
“It’s about time,” Powers jokes. Williams just seems to need a little extra time on certain matters. He cannot wait, however, to prove to everyone that the Eagles can repeat as national champions.
“I definitely like our odds,” he says. “We all know we’re going to have the big target on us.“Everyone wants to knock off the national champs, so week in and week out, we’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game.”