Williams likes PSU’s path
Derrick Williams sees the new pass-happy offense being played at Penn State under coach Bill O’Brien and can’t help but be a little envious.
“When I saw they got Coach O’Brien, I said, ‘I wish I could have been in this offense,'” Williams, who now lives in Hollidaysburg after retiring from the NFL, said with a little grin Thursday while helping out at a Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic youth football camp.
Williams had a solid receiving career and was a third-team AP All-American return specialist his senior year in 2008, but that’s really not what he will be remembered for the most at Penn State.
He was rated the No. 1 player in the country coming out of high school, and the prized recruit took a chance on a Nittany Lion program dealing with turmoil after losing years in 2003 and ’04.
The turmoil has been much greater the past two years at PSU, but Williams sees parallels in his decision to become a Nittany Lion and those decisions made by standout recruits Christian Hackenberg and Adam Breneman to stay committed despite NCAA sanctions and great uncertainty.
In both situations, Williams said, the allure of Penn State was still great, and the head coach made the biggest difference.
“With my decision, I had a powerful coach, a coach I believed in in Joe [Paterno],” Williams said. “Those guys have a coach in Coach O’Brien who’s doing a heck of a job. If I was in that same position and if I had a coach other than Joe, Coach O’Brien had to be that guy. They have a good reason staying with him there.”
Perhaps the biggest reason, Williams added, for kids to want to come to Penn State and play for O’Brien is his connections with the NFL.
“That will definitely be big time, and that would definitely swing me in that way [in recruiting],” he said.
That’s because the ultimate goal for everyone who plays football is to get to the NFL, and young players believe O’Brien and has his staff can help get them there.
“These [youth campers] out here right now, only thing they’re thinking about is, ‘Oh man, I see the Steelers, I see the Ravens, one day I’m going to play with them,'” Williams said. “And to have that access as a coach, that’s a big plus. That’s what [O’Brien] has over a lot of other coaches in college football.”
Williams has moved on from pro football after playing for the Detroit Lions in 2009 and ’10, catching nine passes for 82 yards. He played for the Steelers during the preseason in 2012 but didn’t make the team, and earlier this year he spent a brief time with the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.
He now works in sales for Blair Companies, and this fall he expects to be doing pregame and postgame radio analysis for Penn State games.
This week’s camp at Bishop Guilfoyle provided him a chance to come out and talk to younger players, which he loves doing. That was evident as he huddled up the kids and led them in some inspirational chants to get fired up before starting their drills.
“I think it means the world to these guys,” BG coach Justin Wheeler said of having Williams at the camp. “When you’re a young football player, probably every kid has the same dream of going to college and then going to the pros. So to get a chance to meet a guy who was in the NFL is just huge for these guys.”
Williams said he still spends time at Penn State and around O’Brien when he can and said the new coach “makes me feel at home, just like when I was there with Joe.”
Williams helped Penn State enjoy a resurgence during his career, and he believes the same leadership that his clubs had are also present under O’Brien.
“The leadership we had on the team trickled down from our coach,” he said. “It trickled down from Joe, and it was like a domino effect on all the players.
“With Coach O’Brien there, he’s a great coach, has a great coaching staff, and it’s just going to trickle on down. You could see that last year. With everything that went on, they still had a pretty successful year.”