Williams pursuing NFL, but prepared for life after football
By Alex Maminakis
CLEMSON — As former Clemson kicker Greg Huegel worked out in front of NFL scouts last Thursday, kicking field goal after field goal, Jalen Williams stood behind the goalposts cheering on his longtime teammate.
Williams himself had just finished his own on-field workouts as a linebacker at Clemson’s annual pro day, and now he was watching his Clemson and Blythewood High School teammate try to impress NFL onlookers.
“It’s really all about coming back here with my guys. In four or five years, we’ve built a brotherhood,” Williams said after his pro day workout on being back on the field with his teammates. “We’re at the point now where they’re going to be at my wedding and they’re going to be at my funeral, unfortunately. But that’s the type of tight-knit bond we’ve got. And so when we come back here, it’s not even pro day, it’s like we’re about to work out one more time.”
Williams, a four-year linebacker and special teams contributor at Clemson, understands that he faces long odds of hearing his name called in next month’s NFL draft, and of making an NFL roster at all, but his mind is at ease this spring.
No, he wasn’t invited to the NFL combine, and no, he hasn’t heard much from NFL scouts wanting to get to know him ahead of the draft, but that’s been no excuse for Williams not to try his best at achieving a dream.
“As far as the next level, I haven’t really been hearing much. Teams haven’t been talking to me out here today, but I’ve been playing this game too long just to walk away,” he said. “(Defensive coordinator Brent Venables) wouldn’t have given me an opportunity if he didn’t believe in me, so my 15-year-old self would have been (angry) at me if I’d have been like, ‘No, I’m not going to pro day. I’m just going to get my degree and leave.’ That’s not what the young Jalen Williams desired to be.
“I still have love for this game. The next level is uncertain, but the good thing about (head coach Dabo Swinney) is he prepares us for the future.”
So, as Williams has done all he can do for now to catch the eye of the NFL after a successful pro day workout in front of representatives from all 32 teams, he’s focused on finishing his master’s degree at Clemson in human resources. He will graduate in May, one month after the NFL draft.
For Williams, with the uncertainty of a football career beyond college, education has always been of utmost importance to him. He credits Swinney and Clemson football’s P.A.W Journey program, of which he is an ambassador, for preparing him for life after football, so he feels comfortable and confident with whatever his future may hold.
“(Swinney) taught us that it’s more than this — it’s more than winning national championships,” Williams said. “This football game isn’t going to last forever. As far as the individuals, in our lifespans, it’s only so short. We’ve got to make sure we have something else, because you’ve got to have more avenues of income than just football when you’re 40 if you want to have a good, sustained, wealthy life. And that’s really my whole mindset about it.”
Williams graduated with his bachelor’s degree in psychology in December 2017 after just three years. He said through the P.A.W Journey, he’s been able to network and interview with big companies as he prepares for his future.
Last Thursday, he interviewed, so to speak, on the football field in front of all 32 NFL teams as he continues to pursue his football dreams.
Williams finished his career as a Tiger with 76 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions over 52 games, earning two starts.
He will also graduate with two national championship rings.
The Blythewood native is used to being overlooked — he had to work hard just to earn an offer to play at Clemson — so his odds at playing professionally are nothing new.
“I knew coming here, I had something to prove. Not even pro day, but just Division I college football,” he said. “We play Alabama every year — Alabama ain’t cutting my film on when I was in high school. It’s not just here — my whole life I’ve been the underdog. I have to carry that chip on my shoulder. That’s why I go so hard with education and not just football. It’s so much more than that.”
While Williams called his pro day workout “a dream come true,” he also understands that football will end one day for everybody, no matter if or how long they may get to play in the NFL.
But he feels comfortable knowing that when that day comes for him, he’ll have prepared himself for a bright future away from the field.
“Everybody’s football is not going to have air in it the whole time,” he said. “And my football might go flat quicker than Christian (Wilkins’) will, but that doesn’t make me less of a man. And that’s one thing Swinney told us about — this game is short.
“There’s so much more in life than this game, but it’s also taught us a lot.”
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