Posted: Thursday April 28, 2005 8:36PM; Updated: Friday April 29, 2005 12:26AM
Instead of just watching the draft, Carnell Williams was finally part of it himself, taken fifth overall by the Bucs.
Carnell Williams woke up early on draft day, rising excitedly to grab some breakfast, preparing to watch TV until his eyes turned blurry. With so many players' NFL futures at stake, Williams didn't want to miss a minute of ESPN and ESPN2's wall-to-wall coverage.
In fact, as far back as he can remember, the kid who would be known as Cadillac completed this ritual every single draft day. And by draft day, Williams meant draft days -- from Saturday's first-round theatrics to Sunday's sloppy seconds. By Williams's estimation, "If Mel Kiper was having a bad hair day, I'd be the first one to notice."
Long before he became one of college football's most devastating open-field threats, Williams was a shameless couch potato on those two precious days each April. Most of his friends would catch some of the first round, or keep the TV on as background noise while multi-tasking. Cadillac, however, never got out of the garage.
"This is like my day -- two days, actually," the former Auburn halfback explained last Saturday as he waited for his breakfast at the Waffle House in Gadsden, Ala. "Every year since I was little, I'd watch all the players getting picked and imagine myself being in that situation someday."
Williams' someday was last Saturday, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected him with the fifth overall pick, setting off the biggest commotion in Gadsden, a town about 28 miles northwest of Talledega Speedway, since ... well, since Williams announced he was signing with Auburn at a packed Etowah High School gymnasium.
"There were like 20 TV cameras there, and the whole school was packed into the little gym," Williams recalled. "There were a bunch of people from the community -- it was crazy in there. It was like I was about to get drafted. The only difference leading up to that was, I knew where I was going to play, even if no one else did. This time, people ask me where I'm gonna go, and I honestly have no idea."
That's precisely why the draft is such an unnerving experience for so many professional hopefuls. Yes, it is the culmination of a lifelong dream for many, and there is ample reason to celebrate. But it is also the climax of a colossal head trip that causes proud athletes to fret over their futures and question their own talents for weeks on end. Moreover, for those who get picked, it is a sudden and often surprising dose of sensory overload -- where they'll live, for whom they'll play, how much of a signing bonus they can expect to command.
Now imagine having all this come down in a room full of 50 family members and friends, all of them watching you watch the draft while sitting between your parents on a couch. This is what Williams was about to face in Room 220 at the Comfort Suites in Gadsden, and it was all starting to feel a bit heavy.