The return of Brock Williams meant the return of Notre Dame as a prominent figure in the ranks of college football.
Williams was suspended for his junior season for a series of indiscretions ranging from an alcohol-related arrest to curfew violations to parking tickets. Minor violations at many schools, Williams' infractions caused Notre Dame to take away the one thing he truly loved: football.
Williams' class, which included fellow Patriots draft pick Jabari Holloway, helped turn the Irish program around. The team went 7-6 in 1997 when Williams was a freshman, and then followed that with a 9-3 campaign in 1998. Notre Dame faltered to 5-7 without Williams in 1999, and then rebounded to 9-3 with him back in the lineup.
"The difficult thing to measure is the impact Brock had on the whole team," said Jerry Rosburg, who coached the Notre Dame defensive backs before joining the Cleveland Browns staff this year. "He is a remarkable young man in many ways, but his biggest impact was his tremendous spirit. He was always bringing everyone else around him up, which is the sign of a leader."
Whenever a noticeable lull fell over Notre Dame practices last fall, it was Williams who chirped and raised energy levels. He had been through a rough patch, and he didn't want to experience those feelings again. He was grateful to have football, and he wanted others to feel the same way.
Williams' attitude was not one of a leader early in his career, something he freely admits. A loose cannon of sorts during his first few years in college, it took Williams the embarrassing reality check of a suspension to realize the mistakes he was making. When he was suspended, his initial thoughts were of transferring, until he decided to make changes. He stopped drinking alcohol and started riding a bicycle everywhere, determined to make the most of the time he had left in school.
"Watching from the sidelines taught me that whatever you have, it can be taken away from you," Williams said. "You've got to be more mature about what you are doing, and you have to know the things you do are going to have consequences to them. That helped me mature, and now I am a better man because of it."
Rosburg, who came to Notre Dame the year Williams was suspended, only knows a mature, natural leader in the cornerback.
"Brock is a high-energy, smile-on-his-face kind of guy," Rosburg said. "He is always running around and enjoying the game of football. Those who are less enthusiastic about playing can't help but go for the ride when Brock is around. He imposed the will to practice and play hard in the entire team."
Because he stayed on schedule to graduate, Williams could have stayed and played one more season for the Irish, but he took a calculated risk by coming out. The pressure was on to prove himself at the combine, which he did.
Williams jumped 10 inches longer than the average for his position in the long jump, 7.5 inches higher in the vertical jump and ran the 40 in 4.44. Rosburg said his abilities are only going to get better now that his full focus is on football.
"Given the fact he did not play his junior year, his play last fall was tremendous," Rosburg said. "He got better week by week, and his coverage performance against USC in the last game of the season was his best game. It took a while for him to return to full form, but you could see him continually improving.
"He is a very quick, fast athlete. He reacts quickly and can change direction and run with anyone. While he was at Notre Dame, he was trying to saturate himself with football, but there are time constraint rules, and he was never able to be satisfied. I'm sure he will always be in the film room with the New England coaches."
The motivation for Williams to get himself up to speed quickly comes in the form of his new teammates, namely cornerback Ty Law and strong safety Lawyer Milloy.
"I didn't think about it too much [when I got drafted], but you say those names [Milloy and Law], and they are big-time players," Williams said. "I'm going to feel real comfortable playing with those guys."
Strengths — Very strong and physical player; solid in man-to-man coverage; tremendous leaping ability makes up for lack of size
Weaknesses — Needs technique work and time to develop; still recovering from a year away from football in 1999
Personal — Brock's brother, John, played briefly for the Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears before going to Memphis of the XFL; he has bench pressed 225 pounds 18 times
Comparable NFL player — Donnie Abraham, Tampa Bay Buccaneers — similar size and speed, but still needs development
What they're saying...
"An excellent athlete. Brock will have an opportunity to make an NFL team if he continues to grow up, pay attention and improve."
- Joel Buchsbaum, author of Pro Football Weekly's 2001 Draft Preview