One of the first things Cincinnati Bengals coach Zac Taylor pointed out about first-round draft pick Jonah Williams was how much the game means to the former Alabama left tackle.
That was evident in the way Williams spoke about his work habits and drive during his first interviews after the Bengals picked him 11th overall Thursday in the first round of the draft. And, it’s something Taylor said is an important trait to find within any player the Bengals add to their team.
In all reality, Williams has been preparing for this moment since seventh grade when he would get up at 5 a.m. and walk 15 minutes to his middle school to work out each day. He always arrived before the coach even showed up to open the door.
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“My family … taught me that nothing is given, and you had to work for everything,” Williams said during a conference call late Thursday night. “I had great coaches along the way from high school to college and mentors that have shaped me into that. All of that was the drive within myself.”
The Bengals introduced Williams to the local media during a press conference Friday at Paul Brown Stadium and again re-iterated how his preparation helped pave the way for him – first in getting to Alabama, where he was a three-year starter, and then becoming the first offensive lineman off the board in this week’s NFL Draft.
Growing up in the Atlanta area and being born to a dad who went to Georgia and a mom who went to Auburn, Williams always knew he wanted to play in the SEC. He knew what it would take to do so, and he began regularly working out in sixth or seventh grade.
“I played every sport growing up, and then I realized there were a couple of sports I loved, and I wanted to do whatever it takes to be better than everybody at those sports,” Williams said. “As a competitor, I wanted to be better than everyone else. I wasn’t doing anything until school starts at 8, so I might as well do something to get better.”
Williams moved to California after his freshman year at Maynard School (Ga.) and knew he would have to prove he could fit the southern mold of linemen best suited for the SEC. He became a film junkie and continued working out and doing everything he could to better himself.
Ultimately, he had his choice of schools but Alabama was the best fit and he comes feeling well-prepared for the NFL.
“That’s where I set my sights,” Williams said. “I wanted to be the best of the best of the best, and that’s what it is in the NFL. I had signs hanging up in my room and in the weight room I built, with just the percentage of high school players that get full scholarships to go to college and the percentage of college players to get drafted into the NFL and play how many years. It’s just a small percentage. I know I’m talented, but it’s going to take a lot more than that. I just wanted to outwork everyone, because I know how slim those percentages are. That’s why I’m so honored and grateful to be here.”
A versatile player at 6-foot-4, 302 pounds, Williams could play either right or left tackle and projects as a guard in the NFL as well. Alabama even considered using him at center.
When asked to name his best trait as a football player he was quick to answer: Competitiveness.
“It circles around my approach to the game and my practice habits,” Williams said. “I’m really a perfectionist with my technique. That’s something I really hang my hat on is just being able to go on the field and know that I know exactly how to do what I need to do to beat the guy across from me because at the end of the day, it’s the O-line and I can talk about film, all these other numbers and stats I try to keep, but at the end of the day, you have to go out on the field and block someone. That’s what I build my whole game around is making sure when I go out to do that, I am as ready as I can be.”
Williams said he is excited to get started with the Bengals.
Quarterback Andy Dalton, running back Joe Mixon and center Billy Price reached out to welcome him to the team, he said, and he already feels like he will fit well into their new system.
“It’s also exciting to be kind of on the ground floor with a new staff,” he said. “I feel being a rookie with the new staff we are all kind of on the ground floor, so I’m just buying into this and seeing where it takes us.”
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