Former Worth County standout and star Kansas State defensive lineman Meshak Williams, rear, drops Oregon speedster Kenjon Barner for a loss during the Fiesta Bowl last week. While the Wildcats’ team didn’t fare well in the game, Williams did, leading Kansas State with nine tackles — two for loss — and one sack.
MANHATTAN, Kan. — It’s his time now, time to be anxious, time to be proud and time to grasp what’s ahead and what’s in his wake. That’s where Meshak Williams is standing today, on the threshold of his future, at the brink of a new life.
Williams, a 2009 grad of Worth County High School and a former Albany Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, is coming off one of the best seasons in college football for one of the best teams in the nation, and he will know in a few months just where he will land in the NFL Draft.
For now, he stands sandwiched between his final season at Kansas State — where he helped lead the Wildcats to national prominence — and a new life in pro football. He had the kind of season football players dream of, leading the Big 12 in sacks and emerging as one of the top defensive ends in the nation.
He was named the Big 12’s Defensive Lineman of the Year this week and was one of the lone bright spots for Kansas State in its loss to Oregon in last week’s Fiesta Bowl. Even on a bad night for Kansas State, Williams was able to shine. He had nine tackles including two for losses and racked up his Big-12 best 10th sack of the season.
He never seemed to slow down his senior season and came fast and hard on every play with an unrelenting pass rush that put Williams in the other team’s backfield and put him in the minds of every NFL team looking for a defensive end.
“I’m excited and I’m nervous about the drafts,’’ Williams, who was in Sylvester this week, told The Herald on Friday. “But I’m more excited than nervous.’’
CBSSports.com projects Williams will be selected in the fifth round.
But there are combines and at least one all-star game in front of Williams, who will play in the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game on Feb. 2. His stock has been rising all year, and some project him at either defensive end or outside linebacker. He has the size — 6-foot-3 and 245 pounds — and speed (4.6 in the 40) to go to the next level.
More importantly, Williams made up his mind to take the big step himself.
He was a part-time player as a junior, and simply pushed himself to greatness this season.
“I believe I had such a remarkable year because of my dedication and my hard work,” Williams said. “I put in a lot of hard work, and focused on my weaknesses to improve, trying to stay low and working on my speed. I spent a lot of time in the weight room getting stronger, and spent a lot of time watching film, studying what was in front of me to be a better player.”
It paid off.
Kansas State coach Bill Snyder saw the difference right away, and after making Williams a full-time starter this year, Snyder praised him time and again this season, telling The Kansas City Star recently that Williams had a new look and new focus about himself.
“There is a little bit more of a relentless approach for him,” Snyder said. “You put those guys on the edge, they’ve got a lot of responsibility. In this league, pass rush is extremely vital and important. It takes a relentless individual to do it over and over again knowing that you may only get to that guy at best two or three times during the course of a ballgame, and yet you have to do it 70 times … that takes persistence. I think he has gained in that respect.”
Williams also became more vocal, and after being a quiet player as a junior, he came into his own as his confidence grew on the field.
“He kind of reminds you of the guy from Friday Night Lights they call ‘The Preacher Man,’ ” receiver Curry Sexton told The Star. “He never really said much, and then in the state championship game at halftime when they were losing he started going off. Right before the West Virginia game, Meshak started saying what was on his mind. Everyone took it to heart. When you hear from a guy you don’t normally hear from like Meshak, everyone really notices. That’s something that has been big for our team and our defense.”
Williams, who was later seen during the Texas Tech game running up and down the sidelines shouting encouragement to his teammates, became the complete player for K-State.
“It was a lot of fun this season,’’ Williams said of his success and the rise of his team to the national spotlight. “We were picked to finish last in the Big 12 and we won it. It was fun being the underdog. A lot of people doubted us.”
Williams knows all about proving people wrong.
He was a superstar in high school, where he was an easy pick to be Dynamite Dozen player, and he made the all-state team, but he had to take the junior college route to the big-time.
And he told The Herald on Friday that people doubted that he would ever make it.
“I heard those things,’’ said Williams, who spent two years at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas, where he recorded 25 sacks in two years, including 14 as a sophomore. “But knowing those people doubted me just motivated me. It pushed me to prove they are wrong.”
He’s done that.
Williams committed to K-State out of high school, and that’s why he went to Hutchinson, which is known for polishing top recruits from around the country.
“When I got there I didn’t know about their eight-man rule,” Williams said. “They had about 150 to 200 players from outside of Kansas, and they have a rule that only eight players from outside Kansas can play, so I had to work hard to make sure I was one of the eight.”
There were other kids, such as Angelo Pease, a running back from Cairo who played at Hutchinson and also at K-State.
“There were guys from Georgia there (at Hutchinson) that I had played against in high school,’’ Williams said. “And we stuck together and had a lot of fun, and that made it better. They called us, ’The Georgia Boys and country boys,’ but we liked it.’’
He simply made the best of his long ride.
“It wasn’t disappointing when I didn’t (sign a D-I scholarship) out of high school. I knew I wasn’t able to get a D-I scholarship, but I knew I wanted to play at Kansas State, and that’s why I went to Hutchinson,” he said. “I knew I just had to keep going and work hard and get better.’’
Now he’s getting ready for one more push — to get drafted.
“I don’t know (what round I’m drafted),” he said. “I‘ve worked hard to get to where I am now. There were a lot of people who doubted me, and I wanted to prove them wrong. I just kept my head straight.’’
The person who always believed in him was his mother, Geneva Williams, and she has helped motivate her son in a way that is priceless.
“I wanted to make my mom proud,’’ he said. “She always told me to keep going. She always wanted me to make it. She’s the one, the only one I have. My dad passed away when I was in 10th grade.’’
Williams’ mother is 63, retired and disabled, but she was the power behind his rise to success on and off the field. She always pushed for her son to get a degree, and Williams is three hours away from a degree in social science. He will graduate this spring.
“She always wanted me to get a degree and really motivated me,’’ said Williams, who said one day he plans on being a coach and a teacher.
An NFL contract, however, could change his life, and the first thing he will do is take care of his mother.
“I’ll buy her a house and a car,” Williams said. “But she doesn’t want a fancy car. I just want to take care of my mom.’’
If Williams could pick a team to draft him, he said Friday that it’s an easy choice.
“The Falcons,’’ he said with a smile. “I have always been a Falcons fan.”
That would complete the perfect circle for the kid from Sylvester who left home years ago on a long road to fame and success — a road that might lead him right back home to Georgia, where his friends, family and heart have always been.