Brandon Williams is not the most well-known football player to come out of St. Louis. Sure, he was an all-state selection and Suburban South Conference defensive player of the year in high school.
But Rockwood Summit High in Fenton isn’t a football power. And then Williams left the area to attend a prep school in Cincinnati.
In college, he attended Division II Missouri Southern State.
Even after working his way into becoming a third-round draft pick by Baltimore in 2013 and starting status at nose tackle in the NFL, he wasn’t the first one you thought of in terms of area products.
Ezekiel Elliott, sure. Markus Golden, maybe.
Williams? Probably not.
But it has become increasingly more difficult to ignore Williams, especially after Monday. That’s when he signed a five-year, $52.5 million contract to stay in Baltimore, a deal that included a $12.5 million signing bonus and $27.5 million in guaranteed money.
The contract makes him the highest-paid nose tackle in NFL history — which is a long way from his job cleaning porta-potties while in college. Or the period when Williams, who grew up in south St. Louis before moving to Fenton, was basically homeless.
At the news conference in Baltimore to announce the signing, Williams said it was an emotional weekend after reaching the contract agreement. Obviously, he is now set for life — and then some.
“I’ve been crying so much this weekend. … and just reminiscing,” Williams said. “Looking at my kids, seeing that they’ll never have to go through what I went through growing up.
“And me coming from that, whether it be just not having a stable home to live in, or whether it be my journey through football … It all paid off. And that’s a wonderful and amazing feeling.”
Williams has yet to make the Pro Bowl, although he’s been regarded as one of the NFL’s best run-stuffers over the past couple of seasons. He plays a position that doesn’t pile up stats. But if you keep your eyes on the line of scrimmage instead of following the ball, you can get a sense of Williams’ value.
Such was the case in the Ravens’ Nov. 20 game at Dallas, where Williams had several collisions with Elliott in a St. Louis vs. St. Louis matchup.
Williams is the latest in a long line of run-stuffers to have carried on the Ravens’ tradition of stout, physical defense since they began play in 1996 (as the transplanted Cleveland Browns). The list includes the likes of Tony Siragusa, Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata — and now Williams.
“It’s a big piece that’s filled. You know literally and figuratively, a very big piece,” coach John Harbaugh said of the 6-foot-1, 335-pound Williams. “Really the main piece for our defense, and now we have to work our way out.
Williams, 28, was rated No. 6 on the Post-Dispatch Top 30 list of NFL free agents this season. But all along, he had no intention of going anywhere, to the point that he never even bothered to clean out his locker stall after the 2016 season ended.
“I wanted to come back. I tried to kind of leave hints,” he said.
Once the deal was done, Williams tweeted“Raven for Life!” He told Harbaugh he just couldn’t see himself in any other colors than Ravens purple and black.
“I wish I knew all of that before,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said, laughing. “So now, I’m gonna go start checking lockers.”
Brandon Williams wasn’t the only nose tackle with area ties to reach free agency this year. He wasn’t even the only Williams.
Sylvester Williams, a St. Louis native who played his high school ball for the Jefferson City Jays, didn’t get Brandon Williams-type money but had a pretty good payday nonetheless — three years, $16.5 million, with a $2 million signing bonus and $9.5 million guaranteed to join the Tennessee Titans.
A late first-round draft pick by Denver in 2013, Sylvester Williams started 48 games in four seasons as a Bronco, earning a Super Bowl championship ring in the 2015 season. The Broncos declined to exercise a fifth-year option on him entering this season, although they did make an offer during the current free-agency period.
Several other area products are on the free-agent market, including San Francisco quarterback Blaine Gabbert (Parkway Central High/University of Missouri), New Orleans safety Jairus Byrd (Clayton High), Tennessee linebacker David Bass (University City High/Missouri Western), and New York Giants linebacker Mark Herzlich (Kirkwood native).
Gabbert was the 10th pick in the 2011 draft, by Jacksonville, and has started 40 NFL games. Byrd, a three-time Pro Bowler earlier in his career with Buffalo, was released by the Saints.
Bass, mainly a rotational player for the Titans, suffered a late-season groin injury and is recovering from surgery.
Herzlich has spent all six of his NFL seasons with the Giants, starting 17 times and serving as a core player on special teams.