Carolina Panthers

For a Panthers hopeful, a dream deferred is alive again

jperson@charlotteobserver.comMay 11, 2013 

In the past two years, the Panthers’ newest tight end quit football due to a spinal condition, graduated from Oregon, worked as a security guard in downtown Portland and played college basketball for a small Baptist college.

If Brandon Williams makes the Panthers’ roster this season, he can say Portland Bible College’s basketball team was his pipeline to the pros. He’ll be the only one.

“I’m going to come out and work my hardest every day,” Williams said Saturday after the second day of the Panthers’ rookie minicamp. “Hopefully, my hard work will prevail.”

Panthers pro scouting director Mark Koncz and scout Don Warren found Williams at the NFL’s super regional combine in Dallas in April. Williams had been out of football since the spring of 2011, when a collision in Oregon’s spring game led to the discovery that Williams had stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal canal exacerbated by a bulging disc in his back.

Williams, a junior college All-American at Joliet in Illinois, gave up football at the advice of Oregon’s medical staff. He said he was cleared to play basketball for the Ducks, but could not get a waiver because he was on a football scholarship.

So he stayed in school, finished his sociology degree and moved to Portland to become a police officer. He was working security in the downtown business district, dealing with drunks and homeless persons, and playing summer-league basketball when the coach at Portland Bible College approached him about joining the team.

Williams, who played basketball at Joliet, had one season of eligibility left, but had no interest in getting a graduate degree in religion. He enrolled anyway.

“I was just taking classes pretty much to play basketball,” he said.

Williams, a 6-4, 250-pound forward, said he had a good season. Most of the school’s box scores from this past season are not available on its website.

In a November game against a school called George Fox, Williams had a double-double with 31 points and 17 rebounds. Williams’ coach talked to him about pursuing a basketball career overseas.

Besides basketball and his security detail, Williams was taking classes online and continuing to work out. His girlfriend worked at a Portland gym owned by former NFL defensive lineman Sam Adams, a first-round pick by Seattle who spent 14 years in the league.

Adams introduced Williams to his agent, Angelo Wright, who sent Williams for another round of MRI exams and took the results to a pair of NFL team doctors. Williams was eligible for last year’s NFL draft, but was not really a prospect because he had not been cleared to participate in Oregon’s pro day in 2012.

But when Williams received medical clearance this year, he went to a regional combine in Seattle and performed well enough to earn an invite to the Dallas super regional.

The Panthers put Williams through a private workout, and had their doctors look at him. Carolina signed him before the draft, figuring other teams might also be interested in bringing him to camp.

“The guy’s got freakish athletic ability. If he can get the system piece down … I think the sky’s the limit for the guy,” Wright said. “When you look at him physically, you don’t see many players walking around looking like him.”

Williams said he’s been following his doctor’s orders to continue strengthening his neck, which is only a little thicker than his biceps. Williams has a bodybuilder’s physique, as a couple of Panthers’ players who saw him doing a shirtless boxing workout recently attested to.

Williams said he had 3.5 percent body fat when the Panthers measured him.

“He’s a big, physical strong guy. It’ll be interesting to see how he continues,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said. “He is a little overwhelmed. The real telltale will be the next couple of weeks.”

Williams caught 56 passes for 908 yards and seven touchdowns his final season at junior college. But he never got a chance to do much at Oregon after breaking his hand on a 29-yard catch against Tennessee in his second game with the Ducks in 2009.

Williams played the rest of the season with his hand heavily wrapped. As he said, “I was clubbed up the whole time, so they weren’t going to throw me the ball.”

Rivera said Williams is a strong blocker at the point of attack. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman said Williams is a good-sized tight end who can run, with hands that are “good enough.”

Two years after giving up the sport, Williams said he’s glad to be back and is not worried about the possibility of injury to his neck or spine.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’ve been working out. I’ve been training.”

And living a dream that had been put on hold.

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