No player was happier to see the first Sunday of the NFL season than K.D. Williams, a twice-cut outside linebacker who didn't just stick with the Raiders but also started in their opener against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Not bad for a guy who's eight months removed from working as a skycap at Tampa International Airport.
The six-foot, 235-pound Williams plays like a Tasmanian devil, is hard to block at linebacker, raises hell on special teams and is grateful to everyone in the NFL who has given him as much as a look. "Thank you, thank you, Oakland Raiders!" he said during training camp. "And thank you, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs, even though you cut me. Every day I'm on the practice field, I just really appreciate being here."
The journey to Oakland began at Division II Henderson (Ark.) State, where Williams played for two seasons. From 1995 through '97 he did stints with Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Hamilton of the CFL; in the spring of '98 he played for Frankfurt of NFL Europe; and then last fall he failed trials with Dallas ("I went home and cried for a week," Williams says) and Kansas City. After being released from the Chiefs' practice squad last November, Williams was working at the airport. A short time later he received encouraging words from Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp, whom Williams had met at a Tampa nightclub. "Keep plugging," said Sapp, who upon learning of the linebacker's plight wouldn't let Williams carry his bags. "All you need is for one guy in this league to like you. Just one, and you've got a job."
"What ate at me was knowing I could compete with these guys, and there I was, carrying their bags," recalls the 26-year-old Williams. "I mean, I picked off Doug Flutie in Canada. I have so much passion for the game. I knew I could play, but I thought I wouldn't get another chance. I was always angry with the Bucs because they'd never give me a tryout."
But after defensive assistant Woody Lowe was hired from the Chiefs last winter, he persuaded the Raiders to sign Williams as a potential reserve linebacker and special teams player. Williams went one better: He had 2� sacks in a preseason game against the Cowboys and beat out six-year veteran James Folston for the strongside linebacker job. Last year the Raiders ranked fifth in the league in total defense but got only three sacks from that position.
"He's energetic and aggressive, sometimes too aggressive," says Oakland defensive coordinator Willie Shaw of Williams. "He really runs hard to the ball, and now that he's learned to play within the framework of the defense, I think he's really going to help us."
In the Raiders' 28-24 loss to the Packers on Sunday, Williams did just that. He had seven tackles and recovered a fumble, and his interception of Brett Favre set up the touchdown that put Oakland up 17-14. "I guess sometimes good stuff does happen to people who wait," Williams said on Monday. "Just look at me."