Williams lands in new nest

In arguably the biggest off-season week the NFL has witnessed in recent memory, it’s understandable how a free agent acquisition of a down-and-out receiver would go unnoticed.

But amidst suspension rulings, schedule announcements and draft day buzz, arguably the biggest story, or at least the one that hits closest to the USC campus this week, was the Seattle Seahawks’ signing of former-Trojan wide receiver Mike Williams.

After an award-laden collegiate career, the Tampa-native pulled a pretty convincing disappearing act during his three-year stint in the NFL.

Yet, for a man and a player with so much still left to prove, Monday’s announcement by the Seattle Times is a staggering feat in and of itself for the athlete who was once hailed as CBSSportsline.com’s 2003 Player of the Year.

While his time at USC was full of national championships, post-season accomplishments and nationwide recognition, in 2004 Williams was dealt a blow that to this day still seems to have had lingering effects. After spending two seasons as the Trojans’ main offensive weapon, Williams decided to take his skills to the next level and declared for the NFL draft. In addition to his decision, the 6-foot-5 standout signed a deal with an agency firm, which permanently voided his scholarship with USC.

Although the decision initially looked to be a wise choice on the part of Williams, who most pundits and draft analysts agreed would be a sure-fire first round draft pick, the 2003 Biletnikoff Award finalist was blindsided by a hit few saw coming. Despite a federal judge ruling in favor of running back Maurice Clarett’s decision to enter the draft after only two years at Ohio State (the league mandates that all draft prospects must be three years removed from high school), the United States Court of Appeals stepped in weeks before the draft and concluded that both Clarett and Williams would be deemed ineligible for the upcoming draft for violating the league’s collegiate policy.

Williams was instantly without a job and a school as the NCAA required him to sit out the entire 2004 season. A year later he would be drafted 10th overall by the Detroit Lions, but the man who was once lauded for his one-handed touchdown grabs and instant playmaking abilities was a shell of the No. 1 Trojan fans had grown accustomed to during his time at USC.

He spent three years in the NFL with three different teams (Lions, Raiders and Titans) before being released by the Tennessee Titans in July of 2007 with only 44 career catches and two touchdowns to his name.

While his weight ballooned to over 270 pounds in his playing career, a svelte Williams showed up at the Seattle Seahawks’ minicamp tryout last week looking to impress the one man who nurtured his growth at USC, former USC coach Pete Carroll.

Of the 17 players competing in the tryout, some were former collegiate stars or NFL burnouts, but few had the rise-and-fall Mike Williams had experienced in such a short time.  In a three day period, Williams, with a body forty pounds lighter and a swagger not seen since his successful days at USC, convinced his former coach and the organization that he was a risk with a high probability of future reward.

Williams and former USC fullback Ryan Powdrell were the only two to receive a contract from the team. And while the former may not have the pedigree that the Seahawks’ big free agent acquisition of last year’s off-season (T.J. Houshmandzadeh) had, there is no question Williams has a lot to play for.