INDIANAPOLIS -- If he wasn't here, preparing to play in Super Bowl XLVI, Malcolm Williams has no doubt he would be working in frozen foods at the Grand Prairie Walmart. He'd be stocking ice cream, DiGiorno pizzas and TV dinners.
This is better.
"A whole lot better. Ten times better," Williams said, glancing down at his No. 41 Patriots' jersey with the Super Bowl patch as if to confirm it's real.
The former TCU special teams standout almost didn't qualify to play college football, never started a game in two years with the Horned Frogs, wasn't supposed to be drafted and didn't expect to be re-signed by the Patriots after being released Dec. 15. He is the most unlikely of the 19 rookies at the Super Bowl.
"It's crazy," Williams said. "More than anything, it's a blessing. That's all it is. I'm blessed to be here. I'm loving every bit of it, and I can't wait until Sunday."
So just how did Williams find his way here from nowhere?
"He's a very strong person," said his wife, Jessica, who was a freshman at South Grand Prairie when Malcolm was a senior. "He knew he didn't want to work a [9-to-5] job the rest of his life. He wanted to have his football career, the career he wanted.
"He's very goal-oriented. He knows what he wants definitely, and he's going to go after it."
Williams, a tailback, free safety and special teams ace at South Grand Prairie, was the District 6-5A player of the year as a senior and won the state championship in the triple jump. He was among the state's top-100 recruits in the Class of 2006 and would have gone to Oklahoma, but he couldn't pass the science part of the TAKS test.
Instead, Williams took a job at a DFW Airport restaurant, while getting his GED in 2006.
"Having football taken away from me for that year hurt so bad," Williams said.
He played two seasons at Trinity Valley Community College in Athens, intercepting five passes as a sophomore in 2008. With a wife and an infant daughter, Jadyn, Williams was determined to sign with TCU, North Texas or SMU. That way, his mother-in-law could babysit while his wife was working. Jessica worked as a cashier at the Grand Prairie Walmart during the day, while her mother stocked shelves at the store at night.
In two seasons with the Horned Frogs, Williams estimates he played fewer than 20 defensive plays. But he had 17 special teams tackles.
Williams drew the attention of the Patriots when he ran a 4.47 at TCU's Pro Day last March. He also benched pressed 225 pounds 16 times and had a 40-inch vertical. New England used a seventh-round draft pick on Williams, surprising even him.
"There were not very many defensive plays that he had, which was part of the evaluation," Patriots special teams coach Scott O'Brien said. "But he fit a concept that we believe in, in developing players, and he obviously was very productive in the positions he played at TCU in the kicking game. We liked what we saw, so we took him."
Williams, though, hardly got a chance before tearing the meniscus in his knee in the team's first preseason game Aug. 11. He had surgery and was waived before the season with a promise from the Patriots that they would give him another look when he was healthy.
Williams was signed to the practice squad Oct. 25. He was released three days later. He has been on and off the team since.
Williams has been involved in 11 transactions, including being released four times. The couple, who had their second child, Jordyn, on Sept. 12, lived rent-free with Jessica's mother in a two-bedroom apartment near Cowboys Stadium while Malcolm chased his dream.
But after he was released Dec. 15, Williams was ready to go work at Walmart.
"I had a little money in the bank, but I'm not the stay-at-home type," Williams said. "I feel like a man should support his family."
Then, the Patriots called again, signing him to the practice squad Dec. 27. He has been on the 53-player roster for four games this season, including the Patriots' two playoff victories.
"I had my doubts at times," Jessica said. "It was kind of like a waiting game."
Williams has made $46,875 in game checks, plus $62,000 in playoff bonuses. He will receive an extra $88,000 if the Patriots win the title, $44,000 if they lose.
Williams has rented a five-bedroom house the family will move into next weekend.
"This money is life-changing," Williams said. " Deal or No Deal is our favorite show. We're always like, 'Baby, what would you do with all this money if you won it?' Well, we're about to see. We're about to see."
Williams received two tickets to Sunday's game. He bought 13 more. Jessica will attend only her second NFL game. She had a party pass to a Cowboys preseason game a couple of years ago.
Who knows if Williams will ever be back.
"I'm in the Super Bowl," Williams said. "I've come a long way."