UNC DT Sylvester Williams’ route to the NFL has been long, but ‘a blessing’

acarter@newsobserver.comApril 24, 2013 

— While preparing for the NFL draft during the past four months, Sylvester Williams has played in the Senior Bowl, trained in Phoenix, and worked out for professional scouts at the NFL combine and North Carolina’s pro day. Most memorable of all, though, might have been his experience working with Hall of Famer Warren Sapp.

“He told me I remind him a lot of himself back in his younger days,” said Williams, the North Carolina defensive tackle. “And he told me the five steps to the quarterback is key. You don’t want to spend a lot of time dancing at the line, you don’t want to spend a lot of time engaging with offensive linemen.

“You want to get off that ball, beat them and get them and get in the backfield and make plays.”

Williams’ playmaking ability has made him one of the top defensive tackle prospects in the draft, and he’s likely to hear his name called somewhere in the first round Thursday night. Mel Kiper Jr., the longtime ESPN NFL draft analyst, has projected the Dallas Cowboys to select Williams with the 18th pick.

“You need a defensive tackle to fit that Monte Kiffin scheme,” Kiper said earlier this month, referencing the Cowboys’ new defensive coordinator, Kiffin, who is installing a 4-3 defense in Dallas.

Williams during the past two seasons at UNC played in a four-down linemen system, too. After shedding about 30 pounds before his final season – he lost the weight at the request of incoming football coach Larry Fedora – Williams became adept at breaking through the offensive line, into the backfield. He finished the 2012 season with 13.5 tackles for loss.

Regardless of where Williams goes, his arrival in the NFL will be the culmination of an unlikely journey. He nearly dropped out of high school, and then worked in a manufacturing plant in Jefferson City, Mo., before walking onto the football team at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College.

“A few years ago, I never saw myself in this position,” Williams said. “So being able to be here today, a few weeks ago at the combine and the Senior Bowl, and even here at Carolina the last two seasons, was a blessing.”

Carter: 919-829-8944 Twitter: @_andrewcarter

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