TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - Alabama defensive end Jesse Williams has found a way to isolate himself from the hype swirling through campus these days.
“I try long sleeves and long pants with a hoodie,” he said. “I put my headphones on and just walk around really fast.”
Students who pass Williams on campus, however, have no choice but to notice the 6-foot-4, 319-pound Australian with a body covered by tattoos and an accent from Down Under.
Williams has stood out just as much this season with his play on the football field.
A transfer from Western Arizona Community College, Williams didn’t begin his football career until most of his teammates were getting their driver’s licenses, but he nonetheless moved right into the Alabama starting lineup.
Williams has started all eight games this year in Alabama’s 3-4 alignment, helping open lanes for linebackers as a space-eating presence for the nation’s No. 1 defense.
He hopes to keep it up when LSU enters Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night for the first 1-2 matchup in Southeastern Conference regular-season history.
“They’re big and strong, but we play against a lot of big and strong teams,” he said. “We’re just going to do what we have to do, play Alabama football and be more physical than they are.”
Williams has 12 tackles this season, including 3.5 tackles for loss.
He has drawn comparisons to former Crimson Tide lineman Terrence “Mount” Cody, an All-American on the 2009 national championship team who, like Williams, came to Alabama via the junior-college ranks.
But more than most players, Williams still had much to learn when he enrolled at the school in January and joined his new teammates for spring practice.
“We saw a lot of talent and ability and a big guy who could move, but maybe hadn’t played as much football as maybe some other guys and maybe wasn’t quite as instinctive,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “But because he was smart, the progress he made from spring practice to the fall was phenomenal. He’s continued to make that improvement and do a really good job.”
Williams began playing football at 15 for club teams in Brisbane, Australia, after spending his childhood playing basketball and rugby.
He was good enough to land at Western Arizona, where he quickly blossomed into a top Division I prospect. Williams signed with Alabama after registering 76 tackles, including nine sacks, in his two seasons at the junior-college level.
“He’s come a long way from the spring through camp to a point where he’s really comfortable right now,” Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson said.
Johnson described the lineman’s role succinctly.
“He keeps blockers off me,” Johnson said.
A big body who plays a selfless role on the field, Williams has the personality outside the white lines to match his massive frame.
The junior gets ready for games by covering his face with eyeblack, a quirky ritual that usually draws strange looks from his Alabama teammates.
“They stare at me like they should say something,” Williams said, “but they never say anything. It’s been all good so far.”
Williams doesn’t need the paint on his face to get noticed.
His play on the field is working just fine.