Disabato: Brandon Williams has ‘dream’ opportunity with Carolina Panthers
By Pat Disabato email@example.com Twitter: @disabato July 17, 2013 10:08PM
Brandon Williams | Supplied photo
Updated: August 19, 2013 2:04PM
Five months ago, Brandon Williams was playing basketball for Portland (Ore.) Bible College.
Never heard of it? Me, either.
In his spare time, Williams worked as a security guard in downtown Portland, hoping to beef up his resume in pursuit of earning a full-time position on a local police force.
At a chiseled 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, Williams was a living, breathing Robocop ready to enforce the law on criminals stupid enough to challenge him.
However, he’s put those criminal justice aspirations on hold — hopefully, permanently.
On Sunday, Williams will be taking a physical for the start of training camp with the Carolina Panthers. And, no, it’s not for a security position. He’s hoping to earn a spot at tight end for the Panthers.
Undoubtedly, you’re wondering, “How does a person go from playing college basketball in the winter to playing in the NFL in the summer?”
“I never gave up on my dream,” Williams, 25, said. “It’s definitely a blessing.”
It’s also a story of inspiration, hard work and relentless pursuit of one’s dream.
A 2007 Eisenhower grad, Williams was a two-way standout on the football field and basketball court for the Cardinals. He went on to Joliet Junior College and starred in both sports as a forward on the hoops team and a tight end on the gridiron.
Williams earned a scholarship to Oregon in football and played in the BCS National Championship Game Jan. 10, 2011, vs. Auburn.
Months later, Williams suffered an injury from a collision during a spring game. It led to the discovery that Williams was suffering from stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal exacerbated by a bulging disc and bruised spine.
On the advice of Oregon’s medical staff, he gave up football and didn’t play during his senior year.
With a year of eligibility remaining, Williams was going to play basketball at Oregon. The NCAA, however, would not give him a waiver because of his football scholarship. Williams stayed in school, earned his sociology degree and began working security.
He was playing in a charity basketball game when a coach from Portland Bible College approached him about enrolling. Williams still had a year of eligibility remaining. He figured, why not? He enrolled at Portland Bible College, took a few courses and played basketball.
While juggling classes, basketball and working security, Williams was thinking about football. More precise, the NFL.
“I had a chance to play basketball overseas,” Williams said. “I was still training hard. I always wanted to give football another try.”
Williams’ girlfriend was working at a Portland gym owned by former NFL defensive lineman Sam Adams, a first-round pick by Seattle who spent 14 years in the NFL.
Adams introduced Williams to his agent, Angelo Wright, who set up additional MRI exams for Williams.
Nearly two years after he suffered the collision, Williams received medical clearance to pursue football. While the stenosis remains, the bulging disc and bruised spine healed.
“A decent amount of athletes have stenosis and still play with it,” Williams said. “The key for me was getting healthy and having Mr. Wright walk me through everything I needed to do. He said it was going to be hard, but I just listened to what he told me.”
With medical clearance, Williams attended a NFL Regional Combine in Seattle in April, along with thousands of other wannabes. Williams performed well and earned an invitation to the Super Regional Combine in Dallas in May, posting a 40-yard dash time of 4.56 seconds.
Again, he’s 6-4, 250 pounds.
Carolina signed him to a three-year contract.
“It’s definitely surreal,” Williams said. “Going from working security and playing basketball at a small school and then to the NFL.”
By no means is it a given that Williams will make the Panthers 53-man roster. In fact, he suffered a knee injury during organized team activities that required surgery and a three-week rehabilitation period.
The Panthers’ starting tight end is former Bear Greg Olsen. There are a handful of others, including Williams, vying for a reserve spot.
Williams remains confident he’ll open some eyes, if not the Panthers’, then maybe another team.
“At practice (OTAs), I was like, ‘Wow, I’m practicing with guys I was watching on TV,’ ” Williams said. “Guys like Steve Smith and Cam Newton. I’m focusing on staying healthy and learning the playbook. If I can do those things, the sky’s the limit. But just to have this opportunity is a dream come true.”