Sylvester Williams went from working at Taco Bell to playing in Super Bowl
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Although he will spend this week enjoying the trappings of the Bay Area as a Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl starter, a part of Sylvester Williams will always remain in Jefferson City, Mo.
In fact, Williams admits he would still be there himself working in a radiator factory if not motivated to craft a different fate.
Of all the players who have taken improbable routes to Super Bowl 50, none may be stranger than the road traveled by Denver’s nose tackle.
He started only one game in high school and struggled with academics, prompting Williams to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation. After part-time jobs at Taco Bell and Wal-Mart, Williams started at the same factory (Modine Manufacturing Co.) that employed his father.
"I knew the best way to make money was factory work," said Williams, who landed on the assembly line. "I was excited when I got the job. I was making like $11 or $12 an hour.
"After being there for a few months, I started to realize I wanted something different out of life. I started to look at my surroundings. There is nothing wrong with the factory at all, but I started to figure I had a different goal in life."
The goal: Getting a college education while playing football.
On the advice of his mentor, Williams drove five hours from his home to Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College to the only school that had shown interest in him coming out of high school.
Emphasis on shown.
"I remember getting there around 6 or 7 at night and going into (the coach’s) office," Williams said. "He looked at me in my face and said, ‘Who are you? What are you doing here?’"
As a walk-on, Williams not only ended up making the team but he shed 61 pounds from his 360-pound frame to become one of the nation’s most highly recruited junior-college defensive linemen. Williams signed with the University of North Carolina — where he graduated with a communications degree — and flourished enough on the field to become Denver’s 2013 first-round draft pick.
Williams has started to prove he was worth the investment. He posted career highs in tackles (25) and sacks (2.5) this season while serving as a key part of Denver’s run-stuffing unit.
Williams said he still keeps in touch with factory workers in Jefferson City because they’re his friends and it helps keep him grounded.
"I think about where I came from every day," Williams said. "It’s a part of me. I never want to forget where I came from."
Or where he has gotten.