Leonard Williams might rank as the top prospect in the NFL Draft, with high odds to go in the top five. But that doesn’t mean the decision to turn pro was easy for the Southern Cal defensive tackle.
“It actually was a hard decision,” Williams said. “College was a lot of fun and I’ve built a lot of great relationships with coaches and players there. It was definitely hard for me to leave, but I have a single mother who is taking care of five children and a small family. Some family factors had to tie into that. I had to make the decision to leave.”
Aviva Russek reared her five children mostly on her own. Williams’ father, Clenon, was convicted of multiple offenses and isn’t scheduled for release from the Marion Work Camp in Lowell, Fla., until 2019.
“She took care of five children who were all my size, so I’m sure it was hard for her to put a lot of food on the table,” said Williams, who also has a 2-year-old daughter, Leana, to support. “She’s a strong woman, so hopefully one day I’ll be able to repay her.”
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Williams stands 6-foot-5 and weighs 302 pounds. He’s always been big, and once was deemed too big to play football.
Pop Warner disqualified Williams as a 12-year-old because he weighed 210 pounds, 30 pounds over the limit. Williams didn’t play the sport until he reached high school.
“As a kid, it made me really sad, because that’s a lot of boys’ dream to play football,” he said. “To not be able to do that was hard. But my dad told me it was going to pay off one day. It did.
“… I actually played rugby for a little while. I actually liked rugby a lot. It taught me the physicalness before I got to football.”
Williams made 35 starts at USC while playing for three defensive-line coaches and three defensive coordinators. He finished his career with 218 tackles, 36.5 tackles for loss and 21 sacks.
His teammates voted him MVP in 2014 when he led the team in sacks, with seven, and forced fumbles, with three.
“He’s outstanding,” St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “He’s talented and is going to be a great pro.”
Once he signs his contract, Williams plans to buy his mother a new house. Williams was born in Bakersfield, Calif., and moved to Sacramento, Michigan and Arizona before settling in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“We never really had like a hometown neighborhood, because we had so many different houses,” Williams said. “I want to get her a house and make her stay there. Get a stable house.”
Charean Williams, 817-390-7760