When I first met Florida International defensive end Tourek Williams at the 2013 NFL combine in Indianapolis, I shook the hand and looked into the eyes of a player who exuded a quiet confidence in himself and his abilities on the football field. He was clearly focused on the task at hand.
These players need to perform the strength and agility drills as well as they can, and the meetings they have with teams are a critical component in the pre-draft process as it allows them an opportunity to showcase themselves not only as players, but as people.
I was fortunate to catch back up with Williams after his pro day to talk about his time in college as a football player, his thoughts about the draft and his future in the NFL.
The first thing I wanted to know was what he thought of the combine and how he thought it went.
It was a real good experience for me because I come from a smaller school, getting to represent for the smaller conference in the Sun Belt and just for my team, FIU. I really didn't get a chance to do much but all of my interviews went really well and it was a really good experience for a small-school guy with all the attention.
Williams came into the combine on a gimpy hamstring, and he showed a little concern over it when I first met him, but he gutted it out and participated anyway. It was obvious that he was not happy after he completed his first attempt at the 40-yard dash. I asked him how his hamstring impacted his performance.
I pulled it probably, let's see about five to seven days before I got there and it was a struggle, man. I just wanted to go to combine and it felt good before I ran. I thought it, well I thought it felt good but you know, by the time I started warming up it was hurting again but, you know, you only go to combine once.
I had to go out there and give them my best efforts and that's what I gave them with a bad hamstring and I tweaked it a little bit running the 40 actually, so it was bothering me and it started to swell up again. So, I just cut it off and did not do any more drills after.
I was very disappointed because I know I'm much faster. Uh, I know I could've done a much better job and put a much better number out there but it, it just wasn't my day due to the hamstring problem and I just needed a little more time to heal up.
Williams had just finished his pro day at Florida International, and I asked him how it went.
Pro day went well. My hamstring, it was still a little bit of sensitivity there, about 90 percent, but like I said, I just went out again and you know, I put my best effort out there but this time I got a much better number with my hamstring feeling better. I got a treatment from my trainers at FIU. They really helped me and I've gotten better before my pro day so I was able to take advantage of those guys helping me out and they always do a good job putting me back out there.
We continued to talk about his time in college, and I asked him what it was like to play at home in Miami.
Oh, it was great for me. You know, I'm from Miami so, you know my family gets to come to every game and watch me play at home and it's entertaining for them. I really appreciate playing the football game. It's a great game especially playing in the great weather we played in in Miami.
I asked about his favorite moment as a college football player.
My favorite memory is playing under Coach Cristobal. Great coach, great guy. You know, he can teach you about life and, you know, he'd help you on and off the football field just to steer you in the right direction. You know, he made sure I graduated in three-and-a-half years and just playing under that coach has taught me so much about discipline and determination and just having the will to win and just doing what I have to do to get better.
I have interviewed a bunch of players over the past few years, and I ask them all about how they feel about playing on the road in college.
I had a better time playing on the road than I did at home because when we were on the road I knew it was going to be tough. I knew it was going be tough on my teammates, and I know that everybody's going to look for someone to give them that boost and I always wanted to be that boost for my team on the road because I know it's hostile crowds, the guy sitting behind the bench bothering you, I’m phased by none of that, so I go out there and I make big plays on the road that he can check the stats and it shows that this and this. It's pretty rare, but I made more plays on the road than I had at home so I have no problem staying on the road.
When talking to Williams about his football ability, he brought up that he played water polo, and I had to ask how water polo impacted his abilities on the field.
I got started in water polo with my science teacher who was trying to come up with a team. The team was always struggling before I got to the school at Miami North. And he was always looking for good players but could never find any. And, you know, I was always a natural swimmer. I was always good at it, so I was like, hey, you know. I'm a skinny dude. I can swim. Back in high school I was only like 200 pounds, so I was small. So I tried out for water polo team, made it and I was the best guy on the team.
Water polo has always struck me as a very physical game that very few know about. I asked for him to sum it up for me, how physical it was, how grueling etc.
I was just a football player trying to play water polo, so I didn't think it would be as aggressive as it was. You got guys who have been playing their whole lives. They know techniques, they know how to pull you under the water and it's hard to tread water and move with a ball in your hand with another guy pulling on your leg or something, or pulling on your shoulder trying to drown you. So, it's a real physical game, and it's dangerous if you aren't really a good swimmer.
Williams also saved a drowning man’s life in the pool, and I asked what happened and how he felt about his role is saving a life.
Usually when I worked at the pool, there would be some camp church that would come to the park every three days with the camp counselors. So, you know, I'm looking out for the kids. Just, you know, watching the kids, making sure everything's okay. So, I'm sitting in the 10 feet area. I mean I was paying attention, but this camp counselor walked up. I put my eyes on him because he was about to jump off the diving board. That was my area. So, the camp counselor gets up there. A big old dude. So, I'm like, okay, I'm sure he knows how to swim. So he jumps off the diving board and lands in the water.
And I'm just sitting there looking like, this dude is just playing right now. He's not really seriously drowning because he's a big dude. So, then people started saying, hey man, I don't think he's playing, man. So, standard procedure, you know. We jump down in the water with our float. We put him onto the float. Because, usually people that are drowning don't know how to swim in deep water. They'll try to pull you down with them. So, the best thing for you to do is to go underwater and just grab them and put the float under their chest and so they can grab with their arms. They are looking for anything to grab. So, as long as they grab the float, then you hook them up from the back and you tread them to the wall and let them off easy. And I told him don't come back to 10 feet, man. Even though you're a camp counselor, you have to stay in three feet with the other children that you bring in the summer camp. So, that was something that was real crazy because that was the first time I saved a life. It felt good man.
We talked about any lessons that he learned from water polo that translated to the football field. Williams talked about how it was all “conditioning,” and he got so tired playing water polo and he tries to tire his opposition on the football field. “I’ll always win like that as long as I’m in better shape than them.”
We talked about his future in the NFL and what kind of player he is going to be.
I would say I'm a hustler on the football field. I can pretty much do whatever a coach needs me to do at the time or, whatever I need to do to make every play. You know, I feel like I could make every play so I'm running as fast as I can going 100 miles per hour every football play because you know I was taught at practice to not take plays off and, you know, how you practice is how you play so that's how I practice. It's supposed to be full speed, full go all the time getting after it.
I asked if he played a more physical brand of football, or if he used his speed to take advantage of what the offense gives him.
I would say it's a combination. I can be physical when I need to. I can be a smooth guy when I need to, a finesse guy. I can do whatever, however, whatever the opponent's giving us, I'll take it away. If he's being soft, I'll be more aggressive. If he's being aggressive, I can be more aggressive. Whatever my opponent gives me I can switch it up as long as I get a heads up by seeing what they're doing and figure it out in time. You know, I can pretty much do anything on the field; be aggressive, be whatever I need to be.
Coming from a small school, I asked Williams of he felt he had anything to prove to any of the doubters that there are.
Yes sir, because I've been doubted throughout my whole playing career playing football since I played in high school. So just rising up to this level and getting this opportunity is a blessing and I appreciate it, but I got a lot to prove and a lot to show people that I am better than what they think and, you know, they, they say a lot of stuff about my arms are short, can’t shed blocks, can't do this, can't do that. Put me in some pads, I got a heart that beats, and as long as it beats, I'll be the best that I can be.
Williams spoke like a person who had overcome a lot of adversity to make it to where he is today. I asked about his personal history and what life was like for him while he was growing up in South Florida.
Well, you know, growing up in my neighborhood, you know, I wouldn’t say it‘s the roughest neighborhood, but it isn't the best also. You know, I grew up in a tough neighborhood, man. I have a lot a lot of my friends that I had growing up with, some of them are dead, some, most of them are in jail. All of them have been shot before but, you know, I had to distance myself away from them guys and find better for myself and for my family. So, I started playing football and, you know, growing up without a father really made it tough because my dad, you know, he's been in prison my entire life. I've never seen him free a day in my life.
He went to prison six days before I was born. And so, kind of growing up without the male figure and guidance in your life, you know, that's, you know, until I joined football and my coaches really did a good job being that male figure in my life and just showing me it's a better way rather than living in the streets and jut stealing and robbing people and doing all sorts of stuff that you don't need to do. So, they then showed me a great deal of that. And, my mom, she's done an excellent job being a single parent raising two boys, my brother and I. She's done a real, real good job with that because we're still here and well, we're still making progress in life.
Williams’ story is incredible and I wanted to know more, so I went directly to his head coach at Florida International. His head coach was Mario Cristobal, and he has since moved to Alabama to take charge of the Alabama offensive line.
I asked Cristobal to talk about Williams as a person.
I mean, he's exactly what you want your son to grow up to be. You know, he is a, he's an ultimate competitor. You know? Uh, Tourek arrived at FIU at 210 pounds and worked his way to what he is right now. I believe he's at 260, uh, maybe even more.
He had not played much defensive end up until the senior year at high school, and we threw him right into the fire. I mean, we were in a place where we didn't have much talent and we needed someone to help up front immediately, so he was tossed into the fire in a hurry and responded, you know, like a competitor would, you know, every day fought and clawed and scratched his way into training himself into the best player he could be.
You know, immediately it was, we all saw very quickly that he was going to be not only our future team leader and captain but the guy that we feel would play on Sundays as well.
I asked Cristobal to get into what he thought Williams could be at the NFL level.
I see him playing for a long time because not only does he have all the ability that you need to play, uh, to me also the one ability that really stands out is durability. I mean, you're looking at a guy that just did not miss practice time or game time, a guy that really, you know, took on the role of a team leader and just gained the respect of his teammates through his actions because he learned how to become vocal but along the way, you know, he wasn't overly vocal, like he just let his actions speak for him.
And I'll tell you, it was, to me, it's one of those processes that you really enjoy as a coach, that you really treasure, because you watch a young man who really wants to make his family proud and go on and do great things in the future, get his diploma.
I mean, he took a chance on what was the worst team in the country and helped lead it to a conference championship and consecutive bowl appearances. I mean, not only does that take a lot of physical, I would say dedication and a tremendous commitment, but that takes a tremendous amount of courage to take that type of a leap, a leap of faith. And he did it.
I think again that speaks volumes of him and his confidence in himself and the people around him, and again, guys like that, you know, you like think of them as builders, you know, guys that could see more than just what's right in front of them. You know, they could see well into the future, what they're going to be, what they're going to be able to bring to the table, and he's just outstanding in every sense of the word.
I continued to talk to Coach Cristobal about what Williams was on and off of the field, and I finished by asking him what he thought the fans were going to recognize about Williams a few years down the road.
You know, as big as he is, he's just as kind as he is big and, you know, right there if you were involved in the community when he was down there with us, it was extraordinary. I mean, there was one year when we logged 1,000 hours of community service and he was at the forefront of those events, working with the youth football teams, working with Habitat for Humanity, you name it he was involved in it. So he understood that, he understood that one time he was about knee high and he used to look up to those big guys that wore the uniforms.
You know, that was his role and, uh, he embraced it, um, and you're looking at a guy that's, that's not only—and he's what you want as a coach. He's always respectful, he's diligent, he attacks the daily process. He understands that it's not just about existing and surviving, it's about excelling and to excel you have to push yourself and those around you. He understands that concept, and I think that right there is what really is part of his DNA that makes him a true champion.
There really isn’t much else to say about Williams as he and his coach have said it all. He has an incredible story that he brings to the NFL, and he has managed to get to this point by overcoming more adversity than most people have ever seen.
Williams brings the mentality to have a long career in the NFL, and when his name gets called in the 2013 NFL draft, I will celebrate a little for him and his family. He is one of those guys that leaves a mark, and I can honestly say that he has left one with me.
Scott Bischoff is a Correspondent for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials.