April 21 (UPI) — He sat by himself at lunch in a Texas school cafeteria.
Classmates crowded tables around him, forming a seamless bond. “Friends” would tell him they were coming to his house to hang out after school. He eagerly awaited their arrival before his optimism morphed into to the reality that they were never showing up.
Now Connor Williams is the one being wined-and-dined by professional football franchises. The 6-foot-6, 300-pound offensive lineman is one of the top prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft.
“It’s the feeling of being recruited as a senior in high school again,” Williams told UPI. “You have to take it at the same time and be able to throw it all away and start humble at the beginning with a fresh start.”
But Williams’ remembrance of isolation isn’t going away.
The feeling of being entombed in his own mind, hearing taunts from peers and constantly being jabbed about his weight and the way that he spoke. Williams didn’t utter his first word until he was 4 years old. He grew up with a speech impediment.
“I was shy and self-conscious because I didn’t really have a friend group,” Williams said in a video for Hyundai’s Rolling with the Rookies campaign. “I was self-conscious about my body and about what I said … about who I spoke to. It made me feel alone. It made me feel secluded.”
Now his voice rings sure and true.
Williams is expected to be a first- or second-round selection by draft experts. He declared for the NFL Draft after starting 28 games in his Texas Longhorns career. He was an Academic All-Big 12 Second Team selection in 2017 and a consensus All-American in 2016.
He excelled at the prestigious McCombs School of Business on the Austin, Texas, campus.
“I didn’t really want to focus on what I went through,” Williams said. “I wanted to focus on going through the adversity and how I responded to it with my family and being able to turn to my family and having them as the backbone of my support to help me grow and nourish me into the person that I am.”
Nearly every player in every NFL locker room has a special cause or charity that they represent. Williams says he has “definitely” thought about pursuing something in that manner, regarding his personal experience.
The big change for Williams’ body came after he approached his father as a teenager, asking how he could sculpt his frame. The man who watched his son blossom from a 10.5-pound newborn into a towering and powerful offensive lineman knew exactly what to do.
The next day, Jimmy Williams brought home P90X for his young son. Father and son woke up every morning, performing the program before the school bells rang. They started seeing results in five weeks.
“High school is when I started really changing my body,” Williams said. “Coming from a child into college, what I was able to go through made me who I am as a person.”
Williams did not have a single scholarship offer before the transformation.
“At the end of my junior year I got 38 offers in one month,” he said. “A month ago I had zero offers, now I have 38 offers from the top schools in the nation. It was like … this is insane.”
Williams says he looks up to former Cleveland Browns All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas and Dallas Cowboys tackle Tyron Smith and how they play the game. He calls them “technicians,” admiring their ability to perfect the craft.
Now the 20-year-old is ready to get drafted and start working, after flying on countless planes and working out for teams around the league. He says he is comfortable playing anywhere along the offensive line.
“Connor really enjoys the grind of football. He loves the games, but he loves that day-to-day requirement, that you have to go through these things to be good,” Jimmy Williams said of his son.
Josh Allen, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Derrius Guice are also part of the Rolling with the Rookies campaign. The prized prospects discussed those who helped them make their dreams a reality.
The 2018 NFL Draft is from Thursday through Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.