With degree in hand, Williams excited for his shot at the NFL

Sylvester Williams, a former Jefferson City Jay who played at North Carolina, runs a drill during the NFL combine earlier this year in Indianapolis. Williams is projected to be a first- or second-round draft pick later this month.

Sylvester Williams, a former Jefferson City Jay who played at North Carolina, runs a drill during the NFL combine earlier this year in Indianapolis. Williams is projected to be a first- or second-round draft pick later this month. Photo by The Associated Press.

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — At the University of North Carolina’s pro day, Sylvester Williams measured 6-foot-2 and 3⁄8 inches tall and 311 pounds.

With scouts, coaches and representatives from all 32 NFL teams in attendance, the former Jefferson City Jay had quite the audience as he competed in positional drills for the defensive tackle position.

His place among the best of North Carolina’s senior players was expected. After 42 tackles, 13.5 for losses, six sacks and six quarterback hurries this past season, Williams will likely be picked in the first or second round of the upcoming NFL draft.

But a few years ago, this was all a dream.

“For me, it’s been exciting because a few years ago I never saw myself in this position,” Williams said. “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. So I take advantage of everything I get a chance to do.”

After all, Williams played just one year of high school football. Following graduation he worked at Modine Manufacturing Company making radiator parts for large trucks before realizing he wanted to give both football and a degree another shot.

Putting in two years of work at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas, Williams arrived at North Carolina in December 2011. Fast forward through two standout seasons, the defensive tackle now has a degree in communications alongside a promising future in pro football.

“Sylvester is a great story of perseverance,” North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said. “Even when others told him he would not make it as a football player he refused to give up. He has a great attitude and work habit. One of the things he is most proud about is earning his diploma from the University of North Carolina.

“He mentioned that three different times in his combine media interview. You can tell how special this place is to him and how much it means to him to go from working in that manufacturing plant to graduating from UNC.”

Williams has been working out in Phoenix, Ariz., focusing on keeping his weight under control and conditioning, all while learning from greats like Warren Sapp. He said he used Pro Day as a chance to show the NFL he is versatile, athletic, quick, coachable and able to do everything scouts ask him to do.

Beginning an NFL career in just a few months will be just another step in Williams’ plans to prove his doubters wrong. But the first part of that plan has already been completed. The pride Williams’ takes in his education is a done deal.

“It’s a blessing,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I came here, to get a degree from this great university, and I was able to do it. Having that degree means more to me than anything I’ve accomplished in my life up until this point. Football is the most important thing to me, but that degree is up there with it.”

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Megan Walsh is a writer for GoHeels.com.

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