GLENDALE — Now a 6-foot-3, 309-pound man, Zack Williams has been a football player since he was just a 7-year-old boy.
Thus, when the 22-year-old former Glendale Community College standout received a phone call from the Carolina Panthers telling him he had been selected in the 2011 NFL Draft, it was a lifelong dream come true.
"I can't even put it into words, it was just a blessing to see my name scroll across the screen and get that phone call I've been waiting all day to get," Williams said Saturday afternoon shortly after the Panthers took the offensive lineman with the final pick of the sixth round. "It was just pure joy and happiness.
"I started playing when I was 7 years old — I've been dreaming of this for a long time."
Williams, a two-year Washington State starter projected by many websites to be taken in the seventh round and by some to be an undrafted free agent, was taken with a compensatory pick, the 38th of the sixth round and the 203rd overall.
"I think he deserves it," said Kevin Mills, GCC's current quarterbacks coach and Williams' head coach at Pasadena High. "What he did at the combine, he deserved to go higher. He just didn't have the hoopla that other people did."
In the weeks leading up to the 2011 draft, all eyes were on the Carolina Panthers as the owners of the No. 1 overall pick. That pick was used to select reigning Heisman Trophy winner and National Champion Cam Newton on Thursday night.
Far removed from all the pomp and circumstance that accompanied the Auburn star was Williams, who watched the draft play out in Marina Del Ray with just him and his mother at her house.
"I knew he was under a lot of stress," Mills said. "More than anything, he deserved to come off that [draft] board."
While Williams called being drafted a dream come true, he admitted the process was stressful, hence why he elected to watch the draft with just his mom before fielding a flood of phone calls and texts from well-wishers after his name scrolled across the screen shortly after 2 p.m. PDT.
"They call you right before," said Williams of the process. "It was fun just to watch my name go across the screen."
With the phone call, Williams became the first GCC football player to be drafted since Mark McMillian was taken in the 10th round of the 1992 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He now joins the pro ranks along with area players Ramses Barden (2009, third round by New York Giants), a Flintridge Prep graduate, and Eben Britton (2009, second round by Jacksonville Jaguars), a Burroughs High graduate.
Next to his name, it listed Williams as an offensive guard, though his primary position is center. He said he's willing and able to play anywhere Carolina wants him, whether it's center, left guard or right guard.
"My versatility's gonna help out a lot," said Williams, who did play some guard at WSU.
Making the moment all the more special — and the waiting beforehand all the more stressful — was the current NFL lockout, which had been lifted during the first days of the draft, but is now back on. Had Williams gone undrafted, his wait would have continued as, unlike every other season, rookie free agents would have had to wait to sign until the end of the lockout. Still, players, including draft picks taken on Saturday, are unable to report to their teams, collect playbooks, etc.
"It seems to be changing every moment," said Jim Grogan, Williams' agent. "At this moment, the players are locked out. We're just gonna prepare ourselves for when we can play football again. … Zack will continue to work on his conditioning and eagerly await being able to play football again."
Heading into the draft, the San Francisco 49ers were seen as the likely No. 1 suitors for Williams, as they were the one franchise that had invited him on a visit to their facility and to meet their personnel. But it was the Panthers who picked Williams, who said he got along well with Carolina offensive line assistant Ray Brown, who coached Williams at the East-West Shrine Game just three days prior to Brown being hired by the Panthers.
"There was a lot of interest from several teams," Grogan said. "We did have the 49ers as our No. 1 team because of the visit."
But Williams was more than happy to get a call from Carolina.
"I'm glad to be a Panther," Williams said. "I was glad to get their call."
A large and largely reserved person, Williams does seem to possess some intangibles that will serve him well going forward.
"He's a quiet giant, but he's actually got a little nasty streak, which you like to see in your offensive linemen," Mills said. "Like he said [before the draft], he's gonna be the steal of the draft. I have every confidence he's gonna do well and be well."
Added to that is the incentive of being a late-round pick.
"I'm thankful, but I think of myself as better than a sixth-round player," he said.
While the future of a sixth-round draft pick is always uncertain, for Saturday at the very least, Williams was able to rejoice in a goal accomplished and a dream fulfilled.