In a state that’s produced Heisman Trophy winners, electric wishbone stars and highlight-reel wide receivers, Kevin Williams’ NFL career has flown under the radar.
Of the 80 players with Oklahoma ties on current NFL training camp rosters — other than future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson — one could argue that Williams might have the best shot at being selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Williams, who will celebrate his 34th birthday in August, will not fly under the radar this season.
After playing 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, Williams signed with the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
When the Seahawks play play four national televised games, plus additional showcase showdowns, analysts like ESPN’s Jon Gruden will rave about the Oklahoma State standout who was a two-star high school recruit out of Fordyce, Ark.
“The atmosphere here is a lot different,” Williams said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman. “They’re coming off a Super Bowl win. There is so much excitement. Everyone here is itching to play football and try to do it again. It really rubs off on you. We have a chance to do something great.”
In the parity-driven NFL it’s rare for the defending Super Bowl champion to return to the Roman numeral game, much less win back-to-back Lombardi trophies.
Over the past 20 years, only the 1997-98 Broncos and 2003-04 Patriots have won back-to-back Super Bowls.
“This is a great place to play,” said Williams, who was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000-09 seasons. “They have a bunch of young guys flying around. It’s infectious. I’ll try to use some of that enthusiasm. These kids keep it fun. I just want to contribute as much as I can to a team that’s already good.”
When searching for a new team, one requirement was to have a playoff-caliber quarterback, a variable sorely missing most of his years in Minnesota.
Russell Wilson, a similar under-the-radar prospect, has compiled a 28-9 record as Seattle’s starter his first two seasons. Wilson doesn’t compile gaudy statistics but complements a punishing running game and elite defense.
“(Wilson) is the type of guy that makes a play when you need it the most in the playoffs,” Williams said. “You can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league during the season, but the key is how you play in the playoffs.
“Sometimes it might come down to something as simple as driving down to set up a field goal that will win the game. All playoff teams have that type of quarterback. (Wilson) has won a Super Bowl.”
Last season, none of Seattle’s defensive linemen played more than 620 snaps. In contrast, Williams, the ninth overall pick in the 2003 draft, played his customary 700 plays.
“I’ve played a lot of plays every year throughout my career, which takes a toll on you,” Williams said. “Playing less will benefit me, especially in the fourth quarter and late in the season. The only thing that would feel kind of strange is if I wasn’t in the starting lineup.”
It’s semantics. The Seahawks essentially have four starting defensive tackles.
Even though he’s nearing the end of his career and hasn’t made the Pro Bowl since 2010, Williams is confident he’s still playing at a high level.
“This is an opportunity to show people I can still play,” Williams said. “I also provide some wisdom for our young guys. You learn so much playing all those games, which is why young guys have always picked the brains of the older guys. My stories will help some of these guys play at a higher level.”
Statistics can be misleading for defensive linemen. Despite constantly being a primary focus when opposing offensive coordinators draw up game plans, Williams has recorded 60 career sacks and 464 tackles.
When Seattle lost defensive tackle Clinton McDonald to free agency and opted to not re-sign two defensive ends, Williams, 6-foot-5, 311 pounds, was one of the Seahawks’ top targets.
“We’ve always cherished big guys,” coach Pete Carroll said the day Williams signed. “There was a spot for Kevin. We talked to him for a really long time. We talked to him through the off-season with the thought maybe we could get it worked out.
“I have tremendous respect for the person he is, the competitor he is; the leader that he is. He’s a big man who plays tough. We want him to play good, physical football like he always has... We’re very excited what he will bring to our defense.”
Williams has a resume worthy of being on the Hall of Fame ballot.
“I just play the game,” Williams said. “Those type of things are for other people to decide. I always appreciated it if someone mentioned it in Minnesota, but at the end of the day it won’t be up to me. I just try to put my best foot forward and play to the best of my ability.
“Obviously, any player would love to get into the Hall of Fame, but I have no idea how my career stacks up. I just play hard. My focus is to help the Seattle Seahawks get back to the Super Bowl.”
The Vikings reached the playoffs four times in Williams’ 11 seasons in Minnesota, once making it to the NFC title game. But the Vikings rarely faced expectations like the Seahawks will face this season, the odds-on favorite entering the 2014 season.
Williams never has craved the limelight but embraces high-profile games with big stakes on the line. As for being overlooked, Williams said it’s something he’s been accustomed to his entire career.
“It was the same way in college,” Williams said. “Some of the best players don’t always get the recognition, but I’ve never played for recognition. The ultimate prize is to get a ring.”