Path to NFL not always easy for Williams

Thursday, January 10th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ It wasn't long ago that Oklahoma safety Roy Williams wondered whether he would play for the Sooners, never mind in the National Football League.

After Williams' freshman season, much of which he spent recovering from a back injury, the coach who recruited him to Oklahoma was fired. John Blake's dismissal left Williams unsure about whether he wanted to continue.

``I was doubting myself and where I was going to be,'' Williams said Thursday. ``My recruiting class, we stayed together and stuck it out. I'm glad I did that because if I didn't have coach (Bob) Stoops and the rest of the coaching staff, I'd probably be lost right now. I don't know what I'd be doing.''

What Williams is doing now is preparing for the NFL draft, having announced Wednesday that he will skip his senior season to turn pro. He made the decision after discussing it with his parents and checking his draft potential with the NFL.

``They just told me I'd be a first-rounder,'' Williams said. ``I'll be happy just to go.I wouldn't mind being in the top eight, but I'm not picky at all. I just want to play and prove myself.''

Stoops said he doesn't doubt Williams will be able to do that.

``He's got the mental maturity to handle the pressures in that league,'' Stoops said. ``He's got the physical ability to play at that level. He is ready for this challenge and he'll be an excellent player in the NFL.''

Co-defensive coordinator Mike Stoops recalled how the 6-foot Williams was in poor shape at about 230 pounds when the new coaching staff arrived in December 1998. Williams spent the 1999 season as the backup to Ontei Jones at strong safety, but progressed quickly as he got into better shape and played more.

``I don't think Roy even knew what he was doing at that point, but he could just make plays just because he was so instinctual and the way he changed directions,'' Mike Stoops said. ``For a guy that big, it's pretty remarkable.''

The progress continued during the 2000 season, when Williams moved into the starting lineup. A defense that struggled at times in 1999 became a dominant force and helped lead Oklahoma to a 13-0 finish and the national championship.

The strong play by Williams and the defense continued in 2001. Williams set school records with 22 passes broken up and 12 tackles for loss, and was named an All-American and the Big 12's defensive player of the year. He also won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive back and the Bronko Nagurski award as the top defensive player.

``His versatility is second to none of any safety I've ever seen or been around,'' Mike Stoops said. ``This year he was I think the most disruptive player I've ever seen since either Jevon Kearse or (Charles) Woodson.''

Williams said he has not yet hired an agent, and that he will prepare for the NFL combine by staying in Norman and working out under OU strength and conditioning coach Jerry Schmidt. It was Schmidt's regimen that helped Williams get into proper shape so he could withstand Mike Stoops' critiques during that first season.

``Coach was on me. He was on me hard, I'm talking about every day,'' Williams said of Stoops. ``I thank him for that now. It was tough love, but it all panned out.''