Driven Williams eager for fresh start with Broncos
By Eric Sprott
There were more nights than Randy Robinson can remember when he’d eventually break down and have to tell DeShawn Williams to hop in his truck to catch a ride home after finally getting him out of the weight room at Daniel High School.
“At some point, I wanted to go home,” Robinson said with a laugh recently.
There are also plenty of folks in Central who can remember seeing Williams jumping rope up and down the local roads to the home of longtime Daniel support staff member Deles Boren, who implored Williams — who was always looking for ways to push himself — to buy a jump rope to use whenever he had the chance.
To say Williams was driven during his time with the Lions is an understatement, as he pushed with every fiber of his being to ascend to the heights of his mentor, Jarvis Jenkins — the 6’4”, 300-pound Kansas City Chiefs defensive end who’s going into his eighth NFL season.
At 6’1” and 292 pounds, Williams doesn’t have the size of the man whose No. 99 he inherited at both Daniel and Clemson, but his tenacity and work ethic have served him well as he prepares for his fourth NFL season, and his first as a Denver Bronco.
“There are going to be tough times, so you just have to put your head down and just work,” Williams said from Denver recently. “That’s all I’ve done since high school. I’m not a flashy guy — I’m just a hard-working guy who’s going to do everything in my power to not be outworked, and it shows.”
And that goes back to the beginning for Williams, who’s long made his goal not to be outworked.
Following Jenkins’ graduation from Daniel in 2006, Williams came onto the scene at Daniel as a freshman the following year, cracking into the starting lineup on a defense whose secondary included current Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was named to his second Pro Bowl last season.
He later played alongside defensive end Shaq Lawson — now of the Buffalo Bills after being taken in the first round of the 2016 NFL draft — and was a tenacious competitor according to Daniel head coach Jeff Fruster, who was formerly the Lions’ defensive coordinator.
“You’re talking about a kid who lived in the weight room, and every time the doors were open and it had anything to do with working out or Daniel football, he was there,” he said. “I don’t recall a time when he wasn’t, to be honest, and he genuinely wanted to be pushed.
“I think that says a lot about him, and that’s a testament to him.”
Despite his work ethic and on-field success — he had 106 tackles, 26 tackles for loss and seven sacks as a senior in 2010 — that led to an offer from Clemson, Williams wasn’t selected to take part in either the Shrine Bowl or the North-South All-Star Game.
“To this day, I’m still ticked off about that,” he said with a laugh.
But while he may have been underappreciated at the state level, he certainly wasn’t at Daniel.
“Each year he came in to fall practice ready to go to work,” said Clemson Police Chief Jimmy Dixon, who was Williams’ position coach with the Lions. “His hand speed and technique got faster and better every year he was there … (and) DeShawn became a part of my personal family from high school, through college and even still today through his NFL journey.”
At Clemson, Williams was a part-time starter for three years as a part of a deep defensive line that was ripe with NFL talent, finishing with 161 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss and five snacks over 53 games, including 17 starts, from 2011-14.
Considered undersized for his position at the professional level, it wasn’t a surprise Williams’ name wasn’t called during the 2015 NFL draft, but he got his opportunity to get his foot in the door as an undrafted free agent when he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Four years later, he’s still earning a living at the professional level.
“A lot of people don’t get to see that being undrafted, so it’s just a blessing,” Williams said about entering his fourth season.
In Cincinnati, Williams spent his rookie season on the practice squad before making the 53-man roster in 2016. Though often inactive on game days, he appeared in four games, making two tackles and recording half a sack against Philadelphia on Dec. 4, 2016.
After spending the entirety of last season on the practice squad, Williams signed with Denver in January, where former Cincinnati defensive assistant Vance Joseph is now the Broncos’ head coach.
“I was with him my rookie year in Cincinnati, and I remember in rookie camp he was always telling me I was going to be a great player because of how hard I played and how hard I work,” Williams said. “Three years down the line now, I’m back with him, so it’s crazy how hard work doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Williams added he’s been impressed thus far with defensive line coach Bill Kollar — a 30-year NFL veteran that Williams compared favorably to former Clemson defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks — and he’s enjoying his new city while taking part in the Broncos’ offseason workout program.
“I just feel like this move has made me more focused than ever, because I have to do this because it’s a new situation and a clean slate,” he said. “When you’ve been somewhere for three years, Cincinnati was all I knew. To come out here, it’s like a fresh new start for me.”
And to still be plying his trade at football’s highest level isn’t bad for self-proclaimed gym rat, who’s continuing a longstanding history of proving his doubters wrong.
“He’s probably the most driven player I’ve ever coached,” said Robinson, now the head coach at Berkeley High in Moncks Corner. “He got snubbed by the all-star games, and he was kind of questioned when he got his offer from Clemson, but that was just fuel for him.
“The coaches at Clemson knew what I knew, and he’s proved us all right.”
“For me … the greatest trait about DeShawn is his humbleness,” Dixon added. “Through everything he has worked for, and nothing has been given to DeShawn Williams — he has worked for it. He has never lost his faith and does not hide that fact about his life, and he’s not just a great athlete — DeShawn is a great person.”
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