Lessons learned at Clemson prepared Williams for the NFL

The whirlwind journey that everyone talks about after the NFL Draft became a reality for former Lake Marion Gator and Clemson Tigers Mike Williams April 28.

Following a night of celebration at Club Utopia in Holly Hill, the Vance native awoke early Friday morning and hopped on a 7:45 a.m. flight to his new home—Los Angeles, California.

“It’s still kind of a dream come true,” Williams said. “You know, everything that I dreamed of with my mom last night, and the rest of my family. It felt like a dream come true just to have my whole family there and everybody to come there who helped me get to this moment. My family, my friends and getting to celebrate with those guys was fun.”

That trip to Los Angeles following the draft was not the first trip for Williams to the west coast.

Earlier this month Williams journeyed to the other side of the country to take part in ESPN’s Sports Science program, a show that “explores the science and engineering underlying athletic endeavors,” as well as to take part in a pre-draft show for the NFL Network.

“I’m excited to come here. I had been here about a month ago for Sports Science and the NFL Network, so I had kind of a weekend here in the city,” Williams said. “It’s nice outside, the weather is great, the atmosphere is great, I’m just excited to be here.”

For Williams, the night of the draft was filled with much excitement and anticipation as he waited for his name to be called. However, he felt confident that he would be selected before the night got too late.

“Anywhere from five to 15. I feel like I was pretty confident anywhere between the fifth and 16th pick,” Williams continued. “I feel like there were some teams there that needed some receivers. I felt like three receivers could come off the board during that time period.”

Only one receiver was chosen before Williams received the phone call that would change his life, and it was only a couple of minutes after the phone call from the Chargers front office that he would hear from his new quarterback—Phillip Rivers.

“It’s going to be great. The passion that Phillip (Rivers) has for the game, you can see it on TV every Sunday,” Williams said. “Just watching him play. He will be a future hall of famer, so just for me to catch passes from him it’s going to be an amazing feeling to be out there with him and the rest of the guys.

“Phillip actually texted me after the Chargers selected me saying he was ready to go to work, and I hit him back saying, ‘Let’s get it’ and like, ‘I need to learn this playbook, so we can catch a few balls and have some fun.’”

Even though his focus has shifted from the world of college football and Clemson University to the NFL and the Los Angeles Chargers, one thing is certain—Williams will be forever indebted to Coach Dabo Swinney, wide receivers Coach Jeff Scott and the Clemson staff for making him into the man, on and off the field, that he is today.

“Off the field, just seeing me grow off the field. I came to Clemson as a teenager and left as a grown man.” Williams said. “He (Swinney) just built us off the field. That’s probably the main difference in Coach Swinney and the rest of the staff, they want to see us grow off the field, so that was a big part of our program at Clemson. On the field, he was a great coach. You know, he coached wide receivers in college. Just having him and Coach Scott under my wings, pushing me every day, it was good to have those guys.”

It was during his time at Clemson that Williams learned, maybe, the most important lesson—that everything can be taken from you in an instant.

It was the opening game of the 2015 season against the Wofford Terriers, on the Tigers’ opening drive of the game that Williams learned this lesson.

On a post route, quarterback Deshaun Watson found Williams in the back of the end zone. A shove by the Terrier defender, hoping to propel Williams out of bounds, knocked Williams head first into the goal post fracturing his neck and keeping him out the remainder of the season.

After missing the Tigers first national championship appearance in 34 years, Williams came back with a fire this past season and a unique understanding of how precious his time of playing the game that he loves is.

“I feel like everything happens for a reason. That injury happened for a reason,” Williams said. “I came back to Clemson, got my degree, came out with a national championship, that injury just put my game to the next level. It just showed me that I don’t have to take anything for granted anymore. The game can be taken from me at any time, so I just took that injury for a lot of motivation.”

Even though he is no longer a member of the Clemson football team, Williams feels like he played his role to the best of his ability during his time in a Tiger uniform carrying on the legacy of the great receivers that came before him.

And now it is time for the younger receivers to carry on the tradition in the same way the Williams did.

“Those guys set the platform–guys like Jacoby Ford, Sammy Watkins, Nuk Hopkins, Martavis Bryant, Charone Peake—those guys set the platform,” Williams said. “So, I’m just keeping it going, passing the torch to the younger guys coming after me. We just want to keep that Wide Receiver U thing going and I feel like I did a good job with that.”

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