Who wants to be a millionaire? Not him

Posted: Friday, April 19, 2002

The NFL people keep calling back. They aren't used to being told no. They've never heard a kid say on the eve of the draft that he doesn't want to be a millionaire. They give Rich Williams until the close of business Sunday to come around.

His agent is pretty sure they will be waiting much longer.

''Teams are in disbelief and I don't know what to tell them, other than Rich is that rare guy who loves things other than money,'' agent Brian Parker said Thursday.

''I've been in this business a long time and I've never had a client before who decided he didn't want to play,'' he said.

When the draft begins at noon Saturday, Williams will be on campus at Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C. He will be kissing somewhere in the neighborhood of $4 million goodbye.

''I'll watch some of the first round on TV and then probably get something to eat,'' he said. ''For the past 10 years, I've been playing football because people wanted me to play. That's enough for me.''

He was always big and a very good athlete and when he finally settled on football, there were always carrots dangled in front of him. At Albemarle High School back home at Charlottesville, Va., it was a college scholarship. At community college, it was the chance to prove himself while playing for a real program. When he wound up at Division 1-AA Gardner-Webb, it was a shot at the pros.

In his sophomore year, the coaches switched Williams from defensive nose tackle to offensive tackle against his wishes. But they must have known something. At 6-foot-3 and 345 pounds, Williams turned out to be both faster and stronger than most defenders. He turned up on a few All-America lists, won an invitation to the Blue-Gray game and his name started getting around. When he announced a private workout on campus, scouts, assistants and personnel chiefs from two dozen teams NFL teams showed up.

''He had visits set up with the Texans, Bears, Colts, Packers and Ravens. The 49ers and Steelers had called,'' Parker said.

''The one visit he did go on was the Dolphins. He called me the next morning and he was supposed to be headed to Houston. I'm briefing him on the whole expansion business, the new stadium, some questions for their general manager and out of the blue, he just stops me,'' the agent recalled.

Williams picks up the story: ''I told him my heart wasn't in it anymore. I went through the whole process thinking I might come around. It didn't happen. It was just like when I was switched from defense to offense. I thought eventually I'd fall in love with the idea of playing the offensive line. It didn't happen, either.

''I finally figured I was just doing all this because I had to.''

There are a ton -- actually, closer to two tons -- of talented offensive and defensive tackles in this year's draft, and Williams, despite getting little of the hoopla accorded the big names, was looking better and better to the pros every day. He picked up one of Mel Kiper Jr.'s ''sleeper'' tags. With 225 pounds on a barbell, he did more reps than all but one other prospect.

Williams had experience playing both the running and pro-style passing games. If he sneaked into the third round, he could expect a signing bonus of about $500,000 and a multiyear deal at close to $700,000 annually.

Parker never even got around to talking numbers. He knew his client too well.

''I could have gone to camp, lollygagged around and kept the signing bonus,'' Williams said. ''But there's no honor in that. I felt it was something I'd regret later in life. With me trying to be a good Christian, it wouldn't have been a good way to start.''

He has become one of football's conscientious objectors. But Williams is not opposed to the violence or the hard work the game demands, just the regimen and other people deciding what he ought to do with his life.

His current plan is to work as a strength coach this summer in a youth, college or pro program -- two NFL teams have offered internships -- and then pick up his degree in sociology in December. Then he'd like to join the coaching ranks somewhere.

''I've been thinking about it for a while,'' Williams said. ''Money can't replace where my heart is, especially if it's not where everybody tells me it is.''

Jim Litke is the national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke@ap.org

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