NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Sylvester Williams knows his late father is proud of him, and that brings a smile to his face.
As a member of the Titans, the team's new defensive lineman plans to continue doing things to make his father happy. He just wishes his dad could witness it himself.
"I remember when I first went to college, my dad was so happy for me,'' Williams said. "The day I got drafted by the Broncos, he was so proud. And I told him then: 'Everything I do is going to be for you. I did everything I could to make him happy, and to make his life as easy as possible with his health issues.
"I know he was proud of me -- he used to tell me all the time. It hurts not having him here with me, but I plan to live through the memory he created."
Sylvester Williams Sr. died on February 10, a little more than a month before his son signed as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans. The elder Williams saw his son, who worked at Backyard Burger and Taco Bell while in high school, pay his dues after nearly missing out on a chance to go to college -- and play football -- while working in a factory for six months after his high school graduation.
He also saw his son win a Super Bowl ring in Denver after becoming a full-time starter, and a dependable pro.
Sylvester Williams Sr. died following a heart attack last month. He'd battled health problems for years.
The day Williams signed with the Titans, he said he was thrilled to know the Titans believed in him. But the 6-foot-2, 312-pound nose tackle admitted it was hard to not have his father with him on such a big day.
"Being here in this moment without him, it's tough,'' Williams said. "But I know he would be happy for me.
"I just want to be as good a man, and as good a father as he was. He was a great man. My father worked in a factory for over 20-something years. There was nothing he couldn't do. I've seen my dad build walls and he was the type of person who wanted to help everybody, that's just how he was. He never took the time to look out for himself. That's why when I was able, I tried to do everything I could to make him comfortable."
New Titans DL Sylvester Williams signs his contract, meets reporters at Saint Thomas Sports Park. (Photos: Gary Glenn)
A first-round pick by the Broncos in the 2013 NFL Draft, Williams has played in 60 games over the past four seasons, with 48 starts. He started all 16 games last season for the Broncos, when he recorded 29 tackles and a sack.
In his career, he's tallied 94 tackles and six sacks.
The story behind Williams is one of determination.
In high school, he started just one game at Jefferson City (Mo.). A coach spotted him in the hallways, and asked him to go out for football, so he gave it a shot. He was raw, with poor technique when he took the field. When he played, he simply tried to outmuscle his opposition. When his senior season ended, he figured that would be the end of his playing days.
Williams worked at Wal-Mart for a short time before landing a job at the same factory where his father worked, Modine Manufacturing Company. He made radiator parts for large trucks, and said he was happy with the money and the benefits. But six months in he wondered if there was something else out there for him.
"I have a ton of respect for the people there,'' Williams said. "But I just knew I wanted to pursue something different in life, so I went back to school."
A former coach suggested Williams go to junior college, and he did. His father drove him to Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College, roughly five hours from him.
There, Williams got serious about football, and his life. After ballooning to 360 pounds, he got into better shape, and he ate better. He learned football, and colleges began to find out he had a lot of potential. Williams visited schools like USC, Auburn, Ole Miss, Oklahoma State and Baylor before deciding on North Carolina.
Williams started 45 games during his collegiate career, and earned a first-round draft pick.
Now, after four years in Denver, Williams is ready to make an impact in Tennessee.
He's excited. And he's determined to keep going.
"It's sad to see him go, it really is,'' Williams said of his father. "He took a lot of pride in his kids. It hurts not having him here with me.
"But I am going to keep doing the things that would make him proud."
TitansOnline.com looks back at defensive lineman Sylvester Williams' first four NFL seasons. (AP Photos)