Published: August 4, 2013
Sylvester Williams has something to prove.
As the 28th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, Williams has taken the road to success, and one that came with challenges along the way.
After signing his rookie contract, worth $7.6 million over the next four years, the Missouri native's next step is to show the Broncos he was the unequivocal selection with the organization's first-round pick.
"I hope that I just impress my teammates and my coaches," Williams said. "Honestly, that's what I look forward to doing every day. In the weight room and on the field, I just want to impress the people who brought me here. The people who believed in me enough to draft me in the first round."
But since arriving at Dove Valley for training camp, Williams has barely scratched the surface of his potential. Camp has been going on for nearly two weeks, but Williams has missed five of the nine morning practices.
You'll have to forgive Williams for missing the first practice - he hadn't signed his contract. Williams signed shortly after the morning practice July 25, and was out at the team walk through that evening.
"I was so sad missing the first practice earlier today, so I was eager to get out here tonight," Williams said after he signed. "Even though it was a walk-through, I was just happy to be back out here with some of the teammates, there are some great guys in the locker room."
He would go through two full practices before injuring his left knee July 29.
Since the injury, he's been forced to observe practice.
The chance to prove himself will have to wait a bit longer.
While relegated to the sideline, Williams has watched fellow rookies like second-round pick Montee Ball grab headlines and fight for starting jobs.
But a knee injury that coach John Fox said, "doesn't appear to be super serious," likely won't hold Williams back long.
Williams is no stranger to hard work, or to taking the unconventional route to success.
It's been well documented that Williams worked at Modine Manufacturing Company in his hometown of Jefferson City, Mo., for nearly five months, assembling truck radiator parts before enrolling in Kansas' Coffeyville Community College in January 2009 with hopes of advancing his football career and earning a college degree.
Before convincing Coffeyville coach Darian Dulin to let him walk on to the team, Williams played only one year of football at Jefferson City High School.
Though he was drastically overweight and without much football experience, Williams showed enough ability at the tryout to earn a spot on the team, and by the start of the fall 2009 season, he had a scholarship.
As Williams began to shed pounds and destroy opposing offenses, he began garnering attention from BCS programs. After entering Coffeyville weighing 370 lbs, Williams accepted a scholarship from North Carolina and enrolled at 320 lbs.
Williams landed at UNC ahead of the 2011 season, and amid scandals, sanctions and projections of a second-round pick after his first season, he played out his two years of eligibility in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora likes to do things fast.
Practicing against a no-huddle offense, Williams quickly learned to pick up his pace on the field - a skill that has made the transition to the Broncos schemes a bit easier to grasp.
"Coming from UNC, it was fast but it wasn't as fast as it is here," Williams said. "Guys are a lot stronger and faster."
Under Fedora, Williams put together a stellar season, posting 42 tackles, 13.5 for loss, earning All-America honors from Pro Football Weekly and a spot on the All-ACC first team.
But through his breakout season, not all was perfect for Williams. The defensive tackle suffered from an ankle injury most of the season - an ailment that Fedora didn't discuss until after the season.
"Sly played the majority of the season, especially as of late, with a bad ankle," Fedora said. "But never once was there a question of whether he was going to play or not coming from him.
"He was determined that he was going to help this football team win no matter what, whether it was on one leg or two."
That same perseverance earned him a degree in communications, transforming him from a student that barely made it through high school to a college graduate.
Though he's missed nearly half of the training camp practices so far, Williams was recently named second on the Broncos depth chart behind Terrance Knighton at nose tackle.
There's still a week and a half left in training camp and a month left until the season opener Sept. 5 against the Ravens.
During Friday's practice, Williams went through light conditioning drills.
Williams paid no mind to the drills going on beside him as he back-pedalled in a zig-zag pattern down the field. He got to one end zone, turned around and ran a grapevine drill to the 50-yard line, a black sleeve securely in place over his left knee.
The soft-spoken rookie was simply doing what he knows best - working hard.
After all, he knows what will come of hard work. He's seen the process result in a budding NFL career and a new life, one far from Jefferson City.
"I want to go from here to the next step," Williams said. "Football isn't the end, it's the beginning of my life."