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Lockout ends, work begins

GLENDALE — As April concluded, Glendale Community College product Zack Williams was realizing his dream of becoming a NFL Draft Pick, as the Carolina Panthers selected the Washington State center in the sixth round.

But as a part of the 2011 draft class, Williams encountered the unfortunate situation of being able to do little more than sit and wait for his time as a Carolina Panther to begin, as the NFL lockout prevented players from negotiating contracts, reporting to team facilities, practicing under coaches, etc.

That all changed on Monday afternoon, however, as player representatives for all 32 NFL squads agreed to accept the league’s proposal for a 10-year collective bargaining agreement and ended the lockout.

“I was excited to finally get back to football,” Williams said on Tuesday as he began his trek from Washington D.C. to Panthers training camp. “It’s been difficult not being around football. Just being able to get back on the field is exciting.”

Williams is one of two local players, along with Flintridge Prep graduate Ramses Barden, that’s set to get back to work when their teams’ respective camps open on Friday, while former Glendale Community College players Andy Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles longtime head coach, and Hue Jackson, the Oakland Raiders’ first-year coach, are set to open their camps today.

“I’m happy that the NFL and its players can get back doing what they love to do,” Reid told on Monday. “The coaches can get back to coaching. Players can get back to playing and we’re all pleased about that.”

Among the offseason topics Reid must address, the Eagles are likely to trade quarterback Kevin Kolb, as Michael Vick has established himself as the teams’ bona fide starter. As for a backup, reports have surfaced that future Hall of Famer Brett Favre, who Reid worked with in his days as a Green Bay Packers assistant, has drawn interest from the Eagles’ brass.

Tuesday was the first day in which teams were allowed to sign draft picks and begin negotiations with free agents. Of course, it was also the first day to simply get things back in the direction of a normal offseason.

“As far as our team, we look forward to reconvening in the near future and we are looking forward to holding training camp once again on the campus of Lehigh University,” Reid said. “We understand that we have a lot of work ahead of us in order to get ready for the season opener at St. Louis and I’m excited to get started on that as soon as we can.”

While Reid, a former Glendale college offensive lineman, is a veteran coach with a Super Bowl appearance to his credit, Jackson, a former GCC quarterback, is embarking upon his first season at the helm of an NFL team. Hence, the lack of a true offseason could be more troublesome for the man who signed on as the team’s offensive coordinator before last season and then replaced Tom Cable in the offseason as the Oakland head coach.

Raiders players began to show up at the team’s offseason facilities in Napa Valley on Tuesday ahead of the team’s official camp opening today.

“This is the first time I’ve been able to meet person to person [with Coach Jackson]. Talked a little bit about the philosophy that he has, the Xs and Os and where we’re going to go tomorrow basically,” Raiders offensive tackle Jared Veldheer told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’m just very optimistic from where we finished last year, as far as No. 2 in the run, and I want to keep building off that, just be the No. 1 rushing team in football.”

Barden, who said Tuesday had been a “very busy day,” was boarding a plane headed for New Jersey, where New York Giants camp is set to open on Friday. A receiver who will enter his third NFL season, the former News-Press Athlete of the Year is also recovering from an ankle injury that ended his 2010 season.

For Williams, though, besides attending a mini-camp with other Panthers players, his NFL career, in large part, is set to begin. Carolina camp, which takes place in South Carolina, will open on Friday and Williams is also hopeful of signing his first NFL contract sometime this week.

“All you can do is go in with an open mind and just work hard,” he said of being a rookie affected by the lockout.

Williams, who said he’s been spending time with his family and working out while waiting for the lockout to end, seems excited more than anything to be able to be back at work doing what he loves.

“It just makes you appreciate being able to play this game,” he said. “It’s a blessing.”