ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – When Sylvester Williams was 19 years old, he was punching a clock in a radiator factory and his glory days on the gridiron consisted of but a single start in high school.
On Thursday, he signed a four-year, $7.6 million deal with the Denver Broncos, who made him their top draft pick in April.
What an unlikely road to NFL riches for the 313-pound defensive tackle from North Carolina who will vie for a starting job with veterans Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton.
After starting just one football game in high school in Jefferson City, Mo., Williams was working at a factory making radiator parts when he decided to give football another chance and walked on at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas in 2009. Two years later, he went on to star for the Tar Heels, and Denver made him the 28th overall pick in the April draft.
Williams said he was thinking about that long, strange journey Thursday afternoon when he signed his contract, which includes a $3.9 million signing bonus and another $2.2 million in guarantees.
“It was an emotional moment because I went back to my past and thought about some of the things I had been through and where I’m at today and it almost brought me to tears,” Williams said. “… I’ve been given the money. Now, I’ve got to earn it.”
Williams signed his deal between workouts Thursday.
“I was so sad missing the first practice earlier today so I was eager to get out here tonight even though it was a walkthrough,” Williams said.
His deal provided a bit of good news for a team that’s been beset by one big blow after another this summer. Two executives were suspended after being charged with drunken driving and training camp began with All-Pro linebacker Von Miller appealing a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
The Broncos didn’t expect Williams to slip all the way to them at No. 28, but quickly scuttled plans to trade their first-round pick when he began sliding down the draft board.
Broncos boss John Elway said afterward that Williams was the “young anchor on the inside” that the team had been pining for. The last defensive lineman selected with the team’s top pick was Trevor Pryce, also at No. 28, in 1997, and Pryce went on to become a four-time Pro Bowler.
“This guy is a little better than Trevor,” Elway said in the spring. “Trevor was more of a pass rush, lighter type, quicker guy. Sylvester is very quick and sudden … I tell you: I hope he has the career that Trevor had. Then we’ll be in good shape.”
Williams said he didn’t start dreaming about the NFL until his junior year at North Carolina when he saw how dominant he was and started to realize he could make a career out of football.
“When I was back home a few weeks ago, I actually drove by the factory just to see where it all started. For me, that was the starting point because I realized that was a point in my life that I didn’t want to return to,” he said.
Notes: G Chris Kuper and C J.D. Walton were put on the P.U.P. list as they continue recovering from leg operations. … Asked if he saw this as his best shot at a title in his 15-year NFL career, CB Champ Bailey retorted: “I look at it as my ONLY shot. Nothing is guaranteed in this league. We can all be in different places next year.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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