ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- D. J. Williams is a funny guy. At the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine, he cracked jokes about wanting to run a fast 40-yard dash to show NFL teams that "big boy can roll a little bit."
When he talked about what he learned from his mentor at Arkansas, Peyton Hillis, he cracked on the running back's penchant for plenty of hair gel.
"If you ever see Peyton he's always gelled up and dressed real nice," he laughed. "So just look good at what you do."
But that fun-loving outlook on life was born out of the struggle he faced growing up.
"My background was pretty much like sandpaper -- it was really rough," Williams said. "But after that sandpaper wore out, my family came out smooth."
Williams suffered through a childhood filled with domestic violence, and it got to the point where his mother knew she and her children needed to get away from the situation.
She asked her son, 11 at the time, to point to a spot on a map, and the family would pack their bags and head there. Williams pointed to Little Rock, Ark.
"I'm almost thankful for what we went through because now I appreciate pretty much all I get in life," he said. "I'm very thankful for what my mother did for me, and almost every time I get to that breaking point, all I have to do is think of her and I keep going."
Williams kept going strong throughout college, putting up big-time numbers to the tune of 152 receptions, 1,855 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. That production earned him the Mackey Award -- given to the nation's top tight end -- as a senior, and his story warranted the Disney Spirit Award, given annually to college football's most inspirational figure.
But despite those big receiving numbers, Williams still excelled at the point of attack as a blocker -- something he focused even harder on after Arkansas Head Coach Bobby Petrino believed he got too caught up with catching the ball as a sophomore.
"I worked real hard going into my junior year in becoming a better blocker," Williams said. "And my senior year I kind of put two and two together and became a complete tight end."
Now the 6-foot-2, 245-pound tight end is set to be one of the first players at his position selected in the 2011 NFL Draft.
And everything he went through has also helped him build a bit of a fearless attitude that he said shows up on tape.
"I'm not that player that when they hear that you've got to lead block against Ray Lewis -- I'll say this now because I don't see him across from me -- but the attitude is, 'OK, let's go do it," he smiled. "We're out here playing football. This is what we do."
Though he has a smaller frame than some of the other top tight end prospects like 6-foot-6 Kyle Rudolph and 6-foot-5 Luke Stocker, he hopes his speed will help him stand out from the crowd.
Williams ran a 4.67 40-yard dash at the combine, tied for fourth-best among tight ends.
And whether teams see him as a blocker or a route-running pass-catcher, Williams said he will happily accept either role. And he won't take his position in the spotlight for granted.
"That's something that I've always wanted to do, to put myself in a position to help kids out that are in a position I was in when I was young," he said. "That situation is very tough, and I can only imagine how hard it was for my mother. And that's something that I want to help out with, too."