The accolades speak for themselves. Deonte Williams can put all-star selection and second team All-American on his football résumé, but there’s one thing he wants to add: NFL running back.
Williams grew up as what his mother calls “the man of the house” in a tough part of south Sacramento, thinking about the day he would get a call from an NFL squad. He describes it as the next step to moving his family forward.
“My family depends on me,” Williams said. “I’m going to be one of the first to really be successful. There’s just going to be a lot of joy, words can’t really explain it honestly.”
So between now and the NFL Draft in late April, Williams is living in Carlsbad, Calif. and to prepare for his Pro Day and the all-important 40-yard-dash. Running in the mid-4.4 second range would turn some heads, but a 4.5, not so much. It’s literally a matter of milliseconds.
He just calls the process “perfecting my craft.”
And he doesn’t lack any motivation to keep moving forward and finishing that one last rep in the gym.
“I can remember those days of struggling,” Williams said. “I knew what I wanted at a young age and I knew what life I wanted to set for me and my family. … When I have one more set left and I’m very tired I just know that I have to keep pushing through it because my mom didn’t give up on us.”
His mother, LaTanya, who worked as a single parent to provide for him and his younger sisters often relied on Williams to watch over the girls when she was away. Now when he’s hundreds of miles away, she said he checks in with his 14-year-old sister who recently entered high school. The two even have a contract that rewards her for good grades.
As proud as LaTanya is of Deonte, she’s even happier with the tight-knit family that has developed around him.
“I communicated a whole lot with my children as they were growing, so giving them that bond that was really important to me because I didn’t have that bond,” she said. “I wanted to give them something that I did not have when I was growing up.”
On the field, he was a leader too.
Williams burst into the spotlight during his senior season at Cal Poly after taking over the starting running back duties from Mark Rodgers and rushed for 1,506 yards, 72 short of the program record, while racking up 100-yard totals in 10 games, the most of any Cal Poly back ever.
Now, his downhill, smash-mouth style of running has caught the attention of NFL scouts who attended Williams final collegiate appearance at the Casino Del Sol All-Star Game, where he rushed for 24 yards.
Offensive coordinator Bryan Cook watched Williams transfer to Cal Poly in 2010 and sit behind Rodgers before taking over the starting slotback duties in 2012. Cook described Williams as a physical runner who finishes runs in addition to having a high football IQ.
“It might not be the first team that he’ll end up with for six years,” Cook said. “He might need to make a move once, maybe twice, and just keep his head up, practicing and working every day. I think when he gets a shot when the lights are on, he’s going to turn some heads.”
In his final game for Cal Poly, an 18-16 loss to Sam Houston State in the first round of the FCS Playoffs, Williams rushed for 48 yards on 13 carries. His biggest night came against rival UC Davis when he ran for 188 yards, helping the Mustangs knock off the Aggies for the first time since 2008.
Should Williams get drafted or signed by an NFL squad, he would join a small group, which includes Asa Jackson, Ramses Barden and Chris Gocong as former Mustangs playing on Sundays.
Williams’ and Jackson’s relationship goes back all the way to Pop Warner football in their hometown of Sacramento. The two roomed together during Williams’ junior year and they remain close, calling each other to check in and catch up.
“I got to watch one of my close friends go through this process right in front of my eyes,” Williams said. “To see him walk through those steps, it was humbling and a great thing for me to see.”
Jackson was eventually selected in the fifth round by Baltimore and played on special teams during the Ravens playoff win over the Broncos.
Even during a Draft Day that is sure to be a nerve-racking process for the Williams family grouped around the television waiting for an elusive call from an NFL squad, one thing is for sure.
“No matter what, we will be happy,” LaTanya said. “This is not my dream, this is his. So I’m just supporting him and giving him that love.”