Ask fans to name the top football players Oklahoma State has produced, and Kevin Williams never gets mentioned. Even if you limit choices to defensive players, Leslie O'Neal and Mark Moore probably would receive a ton more votes.
That's typical for the unassuming Williams, who was a two-star recruit out of Fordyce, Ark.
But he's been so dominant for nearly a decade with the Minnesota Vikings that former OSU coach Pat Jones wouldn't be surprised if the defensive tackle has his bust in the NFL Hall of Fame someday.
“Someone recently had me pick an all-time Oklahoma State team and I had (James) ‘Duck' White and Williams as my two defensive tackles,” Jones said. “You could go with Phillip Doaks. But I don't think a lot of people realize how good Kevin Williams is.”
Karl Dunbar is in his first year as the New York Jets' defensive line coach. For one of the few times in the past decade, Dunbar won't coach Williams.
Dunbar was OSU's defensive line coach during Williams' senior season, and he was the Vikings' D-line coach the past six years before joining Rex Ryan's staff. Dunbar will miss coaching a player who's been named to six Pro Bowls in nine seasons.
“You heard guys talk about Warren Sapp or now the big deal is Ndamukong Suh,” Dunbar said. “But if you look at Kevin's tape, he stands out. When you evaluate what a D-tackle is supposed to do, he does it all — he can stop the run and rush the passer.”
Williams has the quickness of a defensive end and the strength to line up off a guard's outside shoulder.
When Williams teamed with Pat Williams to form the “Williams Wall,” the Vikings led the league in run defense three consecutive years. Minnesota controlled the middle, surrendering less than 70 rushing yards a game.
Pat Williams no longer is with Minnesota, but Kevin Williams has matured from a teenage basketball star into an NFL veteran who relies on “tricks of the trade.”
“When you're young, you think you can just outmuscle or outplay the guy in front of you,” Williams said. “The older you get the more, you rely on your technique.
“I've never been the strongest guy or the fastest. If you rely on your technique, that can help you win a lot of one-on-one battles. You can't bull rush everybody. And you can't use a swim move every time, because those guys are getting paid, too.”
Williams has gotten paid. Paid well. Before the 2007 season, he signed a seven-year deal worth up to $50 million with incentives.
The Vikings have gotten their money's worth. Despite being double-teamed for much of his career, Williams has compiled 404 career tackles and 54.5 sacks.
Traditional stats don't tell the entire story. In more than one season he's compiled 50-plus quarterback hurries.
“He's one of those hard-to-block guys,” Jones said. “He's probably starting on the downhill side a little bit. But this guy has been as good as anybody in the league for a good while.”
Under the radar
Williams always has been underrated dating back to his youth in Princeton, Ark., a rural community 20 miles from the southern Arkansas town of Fordyce.
Williams grew up loving hoops more than the gridiron, and he's been labeled the best basketball player in Dallas County history. He played football in junior high but didn't put on pads again until his sophomore season of high school.
“He was your classic under-the-rock guy,” Jones said. “Once he started to mature and figure things out late (at OSU) he became a really good player.”
Williams was only a two-star recruit and never faced huge expectations. He started 42 games at OSU. But it wasn't until late his junior year that he started to dominate like he has for the past decade.
Williams played a pivotal role in the 2001 Bedlam upset, the day OSU held heavily favored Oklahoma to zero rushing yards in a 16-13 win in Norman.
In the following year, Williams wasn't selected to the preseason All-Big 12 team as a senior. But everyone began to take notice after he recorded 10 tackles in the Cowboys' 17-15 loss to Texas in Austin.
“The rest of the season he just killed people,” Dunbar said.