COLUMBUS — Before Brent Williams became a people-eating star at the University of Toledo and and an 11-year NFL veteran, he was just another college kid trying to find his way.
Williams spent his first two seasons with the Rockets as a part-time defensive lineman and his third looking for a job. By the spring of 1984, figuring his football days would soon be over, the Flint, Mich., native was applying for an internship at a local financial services company.
"I felt like, heck, I’ve got to get a real job," he said with a laugh. "I’ve got to pay the bills at some point. I can't keep living off of my mother."
A generation later, Williams shares the story with his son, Camren, who faces a crossroads of his own heading into his junior season at Ohio State.
Camren Williams’ push to snare the starting middle linebacker job is one of the most closely watched position battles this spring.
After two seasons in a reserve role, Williams finds himself between a rock and a five-star, just behind one former top linebacker recruit — senior Curtis Grant — while trying to hold off another — freshman Raekwon McMillan. So far, he has shared first-team repetitions with Grant, with junior Joshua Perry and sophomore Darron Lee starting at the outside spots. McMillan, an early enrollee touted as the top linebacker recruit in the nation, has worked mostly with the second team.
"This is fun," Williams said. "This is what you come here to do. This is Ohio State. I didn't expect to come here and just have a bunch of no names behind me. I expected the Curtis Grants and Raekwon McMillans and Joshua Perrys and those guys. That's why I came here. It’s a great experience."
Williams looks to have news for those handing the job to Grant or McMillan.
At a new position in a new body, he said he feels remade this spring.
A year ago, Williams bulked up to 238 pounds, fought a strained hamstring, and at times appeared out of place. Though he played in all 14 games and made 10 tackles against Illinois in his first start, he was disappointed in his season.
Now, the suburban Boston native is down to 226 pounds and a step faster as he shifts from the outside to the inside Mike linebacker position. Williams said the best advice he’s received from his father is to focus on himself, "not what everybody else has to say."
Though the good-natured elder Williams has admittedly not grown in that area — the avid consumer of OSU football news said, "Every now again, I want to beat up a reporter" — his wisdom comes from experience.
Brent Williams spent his first two years at UT bouncing between positions along the defensive line, wondering where he fit on coach Dan Simrell’s team.
"You have to get out of your own way," Brent said. "You start overthinking everything. I started my freshman year midway through the season at nose tackle, then they moved me back out to defensive end. I was a backup and you’re wondering, ‘What did I do wrong at the other spot?’ The thing I told [Camren] is that your experience is valuable to the program.
"Those challenges that you're facing, they're normal. Kids in this generation, this microwave generation, they expect to come out of high school and play right away in the Big Ten and never miss a beat. That’s not how it is."
Brent knows the wait is worth it. His older son, Brennan, became the starter at right tackle for North Carolina as a junior, then was selected by the Houston Texans in the third round of last year’s NFL draft. And Brent became a starter on the Rockets’ Mid-American Conference championship team in 1984 and a first-team all-conference player the next season.
A seventh-round pick in the 1986 draft, Williams played eight seasons for the New England Patriots before finishing his career with the Seattle Seahawks and New York Jets.
"You go from literally looking at job opportunities in the Toledo area to sitting down with coach Simrell looking at the next level," Brent said.
He will not be surprised if Camren follows the same path.
"My dad loves Toledo and he tries to tell me that his experience there was similar to my experience here," Camren said. "But I argue with him that it isn’t."
Brent will have none of it.
"We joke all the time," he said. "He says it's not like at Toledo. But it's not like all those guys at Ohio State played in the NFL for 11 years, either."