HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Ed Orgeron is one of the most hard-nosed, tough, yet still loving coaches there are. It was the loving side of the man affectionately known as "Coach O" that USC defensive end Leonard Williams experienced the most — at least according to his teammates.
"A lot of the d-line guys on the team said he treated me like his baby," Williams said.
That’s hard to believe because Orgeron doesn’t strike anyone as a coach who would "baby" anyone.
"They said Coach O was going soft," Williams said with a laugh. "That’s what they said."
Williams is a grown man and far from a baby with a pain threshold that enabled him to play all of last season with a shoulder injury that later required him to have offseason surgery and miss all of spring practice.
Healthy now, Williams is largely considered the best defensive lineman in the country and a sure fire first-round draft pick standing 6’5" and weighing 310 pounds.
Despite the shoulder injury in 2013, Williams still was tied for the team lead with 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. Watching from afar, new head coach Steve Sarkisian had no clue one of the most dominant specimens in college football was playing hurt.
"I could not tell," Sarkisian said. "I was blown away that the guy wasn’t 100 percent.
"I can only imagine that now Leonard is 100 percent what he’s going to look like this fall. I know the offense isn’t particularly fired up about going against him every day in practice but he’s going to make them better."
Williams was named to five preseason watch lists — Nagurski, Bednarik, Outland, Lombardi and Lott IMPACT. He’s projected by many to be a top five pick in next year’s draft if he elects to enter.
Williams, however, tries to deafen the hype.
"I’m aware of it because I have social media so I see it all around but at the same time, it’s definitely not one of my focuses at all," Williams said. "It’s in the backburner."
He welcomes the challenge of facing double teams on a regular but is also eager about the opportunity for single coverage with the plans to move him around the defensive line in Justin Wilcoox’s defense.
"I’m pretty sure I might be able to even play nose (tackle) a few times this year if I have to," Williams said. "I’m willing to play anything on the d-line, to be honest."
Growing up in Florida, he admittedly didn’t pay much attention to USC, but like many where he’s from was enamored by SEC football. Williams nearly signed with Florida out of high school.
However, after coming west he instantly became a star under Orgeron’s tutelage and his firm but fair tactics.
"He was such a hard (coach) where you couldn’t mess up in anything," Williams said. "You were so accountable for everything you did. That really helped me out a lot in my career."
Orgeron’s booming voice could be heard throughout the practice field as he constantly summoned Williams by yelling out "Lenny" before offering some instruction.