Take a look at the Broncos' defense hunting for takeaways at Thursday's practice.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. –** Sylvester Williams' father takes no credit for the successes of his son.
Sylvester Sr. still lives in Missouri and watches his son play football for the Broncos every Sunday on television. As Williams grew in St. Louis and Jefferson City, Sylvester Sr. watched his son struggle through high school, accept a job at a manufacturing plant when he was 19 and follow in his footsteps.
While it went against the status quo and was completely unexpected, his father supported him when he made the decision to go to school and get his degree. No one would have minded if Williams remained a factory worker his whole life. While Williams has the utmost respect and admiration of his father, Williams did not want to live the same life as him.
When Williams first got the job at the Modine Manufacturing Company building radiator parts for large trucks, he was elated to earn $11.50 an hour, making him a wealthy 19-year-old. His job wasn't the hardest at the plant as he put the tubes inside the radiators, but he worked seemingly endless hours, standing up all night doing the same monotonous task over and over. He looked around at his fellow workers, questioning if this was the right path for him.
"I just kind of started to look at myself and wonder if this is what I wanted to do because my pops did this his whole life," Williams said. "Just talking to some other people but I made up my mind that I was just ready to move on and go to school."
Williams always admired his father and always respected him, both for his parenting and his work ethic. Sylvester Sr. taught his son the importance of respect, discipline and hard work. All three of these characteristics came to fruition when Williams enrolled in school and tried out for the Coffeyville Community College football team and made it.
His father drove him to the tryout. Though Williams was overweight and unskilled, Sylvester Sr. was resolute in his confidence in his son.
"When I was in school, I was an athlete," Sylvester Sr. said. "I didn't have a father, I didn't have anybody pushing me. I know my son had the skills because he had everything I had. I told him, all you have to do is put your heart into it. If you put your heart into it you're going to go to the top."
Williams quit his job and went to school. As he put it, "I knew when I put all my eggs in that basket, it had to work out."
It did work out. After playing just one season of high school football and basketball, he rose through the junior college ranks and was named a four-star prospect by Scout.com while racking up 49 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 2010. He earned honorable mention All-America honors and was named first-team All-Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference that season.
"My mindset was totally different because at that point I was a man, so I knew in order to get where I needed to get I needed to outwork everybody," Williams said. "So my mindset wasn't that of a walk-on. I just looked at each individual guy and I wanted to outwork that guy. I knew that if I wanted to outwork all these people, I had a chance. These guys were All-Americans and Division I commits so I knew that I had to work hard to overcome them. That's pretty much what I did.
"I had a mindset that I was just not going to be outworked by nobody and that's what I did."
Georgia, USC, Auburn and numerous other schools came calling. While football was important to him, education was his ultimate goal so he went with the school that emphasized that the most: North Carolina. He felt at home on the campus and comfortable with the coaches.
"It just felt right."
Williams went from a player who was ineligible to play sports until his senior year of high school due to disciplinary reasons to starting every game in his two seasons for the Tar Heels. His first season there, 2011, he was the recipient of the team's award given to the most outstanding first-year player for the defense. In his senior season, when he had six sacks, he was named a first-team All-American and was an All-ACC selection.
With the 28th overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, the Broncos selected Williams.
After waiting impatiently in his living room with his family for what seemed like an eternity, he only heard Roger Goodell say the first part of his name before his family began screaming, making the rest of the announcement inaudible.
"He was telling me he was happy for me and I said 'I'm happy for you because you made it happen,'" Sylvester Sr. said. "He put his heart into it."
"It was an emotional day and a day that I will probably never in my life forget," Williams said.
Fast forward nearly two years – Williams has started 15 regular season and three postseason games for the Broncos, including the Super Bowl, and has been a consistent threat on the team's defensive line. The line is one of the best in the NFL, deep and dominant, helping the Broncos sit at No. 2 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed.
Just as his path to the NFL wasn't easy, neither was his rise to the starting role. After starting every game at North Carolina, Williams sat patiently on the sideline hoping for his chance to make an impact on his new team, testing his fortitude. In fact, he was inactive for three of the Broncos games as a rookie and had just seven tackles through the Broncos' first 11 matchups.
While the world of the NFL is vastly different from that of Coffeyville Community College, he approached it the same way: outwork everybody.
"Really for me it was probably the first time I had a reality check my whole career since I started college because I had been a starter all four years: both years in junior college and both years in Chapel Hill," Williams said. "I was always the guy, so coming here and having to ride the bench and not be the guy, it was a struggle at first and then I realized it was bigger than me and it was about the team. I kind of just started to become a role player and cherish my role and do what I could to help the team win. Just believing that my time come I just have to take the opportunity."
His time arrived after an injury to starting defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson forced Williams into the spotlight and starting spot. He started the last four games of the regular season and all three playoff games.
"It's just a dream – watching him play," Sylvester Sr. said.
While his father and determination to be the best has always inspired Williams, he has a new motivation. That motivation was born on March 27, 2013 and shares the name of his father and grandfather.
Sylvester III changed Williams' life for the better. Luckily for Williams, he has a great father to emulate.
"To me it changed my life because having him, I'm able to see myself through my own eyes and it's just like watching him grow and be able to be a part of his life and being able to provide for him is big for me," Williams said. "One day I hope he grows up and says he's proud of me because I'm proud of him."
As Sylvester works to be the best he can be for his team, he also has another goal: to be an even better father than his father.
While Williams isn't the disciplinarian to 19-month-old Sylvester III that Sylvester Sr. was to him, he will instill the same values in his son that his father taught him.
"That's one of those things he would preach: Look out for your brothers and sisters," Williams said. "That's the thing he would preach the most. He was big on respect towards himself and towards others. Just doing the right thing and that's why I really respect him a lot. One thing my pops, he never changed. He was always the same guy. He was a tough guy to deal with at times. He demanded respect, from everybody, not just his kids. That's the type of person he was.
"Growing up with him in my life and having a father figure that I had, I say that I will never let my son down. I can never fail as a father when I had such a great father in my life."
The lessons of respect, discipline and hard work that Williams learned from his father translate to every facet of his life, from football to fatherhood. And after Sunday's game against the Bills, like he does following every game, he will call his father.
"I knew he was going to go to the top," Sylvester Sr. said. "It was what he had to go through to get there."