Williams hopes to be an NFL 'steal'

GLENDALE — With a multitude of possible suitors and seemingly on the doorstep of realizing the dream of a future in the NFL, Zack Williams is anxiously awaiting this year's NFL Draft.

A former Glendale Community College standout, the 22-year-old center is projected by many draft websites to be selected in the seventh round on Saturday.

"I definitely see myself as being a steal in the late rounds," Williams said.

At 6-foot-3, 309 pounds, Williams possesses good size and strength for an NFL center. In the 2011 draft class, many pundits have him ranked as the eighth or ninth-best player at his position.

Throughout the process leading up to the draft, Williams has been through workouts, fielded myriad phone calls and dealt with his fair share of projections and predictions.

"I've been getting a lot of calls. … Pretty much a lot of calls from a lot of teams," Williams said. "I'm excited about that."

He's remained level-headed thus far, as he said his goal was just to be patient, admitting that he's equally nervous and excited about the coming days.

"It's been busy, but at the same time, it's been fun," Williams said.

A Pasadena High graduate, Williams was a two-year starter and standout under Coach John Cicuto at GCC before moving onto Washington State. Most predict he will be the only Washington State product to be taken and he would also make his share of history locally, as well.

According to GCC, Williams could become the first Vaqueros product to be drafted since Mark McMillian was taken in 1992 in the 10th round by the Philadelphia Eagles and could eventually become the first former Vaq to play in the NFL since Wes Bender, an undrafted free agent, played for the New Orleans Saints in 1997.

Should Williams join the NFL ranks — whether as a draft pick or a free agent — he would join area products Ramses Barden (Flintridge Prep graduate), a receiver for the New York Giants, and Eben Britton (Burroughs High graduate), an offensive tackle for the Jacksonville Jaguars, on the playing field. As far as GCC goes, two former Vaqueros players are currently in the NFL's head coaching ranks, as Andy Reid is in the midst of a long tenure with the Eagles, while Hue Jackson is set for his first season as the Oakland Raiders' head coach.

"We're always very proud of our athletes who have gone on and have had success," said current GCC Coach John Rome, who was the Vaqueros' offensive coordinator during Williams' two years at Glendale college. "It's their hard work and ability. We just hope we taught them something along the way."

Along the way, Williams has developed into an NFL prospect, thanks in large part to his work ethic, according to those closest to him.

"He had a real desire to succeed," Rome said.

Kevin Mills, who's coached GCC quarterbacks for the last two seasons was Williams' head coach in high school and remains close with him today.

Though it's perhaps cliché, Mills said he saw pro-level potential in Williams long ago.

"It's kind of funny, every coach seems to say that," Mills said. "But with Zack, I really and truly felt that about him. Just his intensity about football and his willingness to get better. He was big and he was strong and surprisingly quick."

At GCC, Williams was an All-Western State Conference second-team selection as a junior before notching first-team WSC honors as a senior in 2007, when he was also recognized as an honorable mention JC Gridwire All-American. After redshirting a season at WSU, Williams started seven of eight games he played in as a junior with the Cougars in 2009, missing four due to a high ankle sprain. In his 2010 senior season, Williams — who's played primarily at center, but has also played guard — started every game and was recognized as an All-Pac 10 Football Honorable Mention honoree.

"He's one of the best offensive lineman I've ever had the pleasure to coach," said Rome, whose coaching resume included seasons at the University of New Mexico and UCLA. "I'm very happy for Zack."

Williams recently returned from a visit north to speak with San Francisco 49ers personnel. Having been the only team that summoned him for a personal visit, Williams said San Francisco is obviously the team that has appeared most interested, but plenty of others have called. As for what team will possibly draft him and when he will possibly be drafted, Williams said there's really no way to tell and advice from coaches and his agent has all been that those who make the projections aren't the ones who make the picks.

Nonetheless, in late-February at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, Williams began to impress.

Williams ran a 5.29 40-yard dash and had top-10 marks among offensive linemen in the 20-yard shuttle, the three-cone drill and the bench press, in which he reportedly did 30 reps of 225 pounds.

"I think, personally, the combine benefitted me," Williams said. "From the coaches, I've heard that I did really well, too."

For now, all Williams can do is wait for the phone to ring. Whether he's drafted or signs as an undrafted free agent, Williams is excited, but he's admittedly hoping to hear his name called, as are those closest to him.

"I'd probably be upset, but either way, I'm gonna go into camp with the same mindset that I have to work harder than everyone out there," Williams said. "To hear my name called would be a blessing, but if it doesn't happen, it's not something I'll be too concerned about."

Said Mills: "I would love for him to get his name called. It's been a lifelong dream and there's nothing like getting your name called. I kinda think it would be the just dessert."

The NFL Draft, which will air on both ESPN and the NFL Network, begins at 5 p.m. PDT today with the telecast of the first round. On Thursday, the telecast of the second and third rounds will begin at 3 p.m.

On Saturday, beginning at 7 a.m., the fourth round until the final seventh round will be televised.

Said Williams, who plans to watch the draft from his mother's house in Marina Del Ray: "Those are the rounds I'll be looking for."

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