Covering Leonard Williams during the 2014 USC football season offered a look at duality.
Williams was a Floridian in Southern California. He was a versatile play-maker on the football field, capable of lining up at both end and tackle with equal effectiveness, and he rode a longboard around the USC campus. Williams was a 6-foot-6, 300-pound destroyer on the field, and soft-spoken off it.
He represents No. 94 on the 94th day before kickoff of the 2016 season.
COUNTDOWN DAY 94: NO. 94 LEONARD WILLIAMS, DL, USC
I’m not sure Leonard Williams gets his due credit. He was virtually unblockable while at USC, regardless if he played on the edge or the interior. His willingness to line up at tackle, which he did repeatedly in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, may have sacrificed gaudier statistics. The result was Williams finishing both campaigns without consensus All-American recognition.
Even in his last collegiate game, the 2014 Holiday Bowl, the representative presenting the Defensive MVP trophy referred to him as “Leonard Wilson.”
That’s not to say Williams failed to garner high praise. He was the Pac-12’s 2012 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and earned 1st Team All-Conference recognition in both 2013 and 2014.
However, his contributions felt overlooked as someone with an up-close look at how much he impacted the USC defense. He doubled as both the best run-stopping presence up front and the team’s premier pass-rusher.
He shrugged off blockers, even double-teams, often commanding three players’ attention to open the field for teammates.
For my money, Leonard Williams was the nation’s best defensive lineman in 2014, save maybe Joey Bosa. Bosa put up more impressive numbers, though his production begs the question: how might Williams have fared playing on the perimeter alongside a tackle the caliber of Adolphus Washington?
It’s a fair what-if to pose. Likewise, how might his statistics have benefited from playing for the same head coach for the duration of even one of his three seasons at USC? Lane Kiffin was his head coach in 2012, with Monte Kiffin coordinating the defense.
Kiffin’s midseason firing in 2013 set the wheels in motion for Steve Sarkisian’s hire, and thus the change from Clancy Pendergast to Justin Wilcox at defensive coordinator.
The lack of schematic continuity might have hurt a lesser player. It does partially contribute to Williams not registering more eye-popping numbers, and thus being denied consensus All-America honors.
Nevertheless, his continued dominance regardless of scheme only makes his college career that much more impressive.
BONUS NO. 94: DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON
Earlier this month, in honor of his birthday, I spotlighted Dwayne Johnson’s University of Miami career here at CFB Huddle. Though Johnson shined with the Hurricanes in the early 1990s, he’s much better known as professional wrestler The Rock.
With that in mind, enjoy three of my all-time favorite matches featuring the man who wore No. 94 for the national champion Miami Hurricanes:
vs. Eddie Guerrero
with Cactus Jack, Rikishi & Too Cool vs. Triple H, X-Pac, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn
vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin, WrestleMania X7
This might be my favorite wrestling match ever. In a rare upset, North Texas — alma mater of Steve Austin — scores the win over The U.