AUBURN, Alabama — In an alternate reality, Duke Williams is sitting in Chicago tonight.
The Auburn receiver is the talk of the town and is expected to be picked up in the first round of the NFL Draft. The All-SEC receiver and the nation’s No. 1 junior college prospect in 2014 is about to complete his storybook journey from the violent streets of LaPlace, Louisiana to the big stage at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago. A multi-million dollar deal to continue playing football and more money in endorsements are imminent.
That alternate reality seems implausible today, but it could have come true if Williams wasn’t immature. Several suspensions at Auburn in the span of 20 months and one swing of the fist on Oct. 3, 2015 may have ended those dreams of big money and stardom. He was booted from the Tigers’ roster, left school and has been on a rehabilitation tour to repair his image ever since.
“Every day I think about it because I messed it up,” Williams told SEC Country. “I could have probably been in Chicago right now. God has a plan for everybody so that’s the plan I’m following. I regret it every day but I can’t do anything about it but learn from it and move forward.”
Today, Williams sits at his home in Louisiana wondering if a team will even take a chance on him and draft him in the seven-round event scheduled to run through Saturday. If not, he hopes a team calls him and offers a free-agent deal. He’s nervous but he also knows he can be a star.
“I don’t make excuses for any player, especially as a guy who is going into a professional arena,” said Damarius Bilbo, Williams’ agent. “… It’s not a situation where Duke has a substance abuse problem, marijuana problem or domestic violence. It’s simply immaturity.”
Character, however, means something now more than ever in the NFL. An interruption in the locker room is not needed and many teams perceive Williams as a problem for team chemistry.
Williams’ journey to convince teams he has changed has included weekly counseling sessions since he left Auburn. He trained in Sarasota, Florida during spring, but he failed to impress scouts and team personnel at the NFL Combine and Auburn’s Pro Day. His 40-yard dash time was second-to-last among all receivers at the combine and he was timed at 4.7 seconds at Auburn’s Pro Day.
He was invited to Auburn’s Pro Day with Gus Malzahn’s blessing. Watching behind a rope was Auburn center Xavier Dampeer, the man Williams punched in the jaw outside a local bar in October. Dampeer’s broken jaw required surgery and he missed the eight remaining games on the schedule.
“I apologized to him,” Williams said. “I just told him I was sorry. That night was a big blur. At the end of the day I hope he can forgive me.
“It was hard, but we’ve got to both move on. I made that mistake and he’s still at Auburn. At the end of the day I hurt him just like I hurt my family. I wish him the best of the luck.”
Six to seven teams have shown interest in Williams but he has not been invited to team sites for private workouts before the draft. The hope in Williams’ camp is that a team will take a chance on him and draft him in the third round or beyond Saturday.
“I have a good feeling,” Bilbo said.
Williams’ life story is certainly filled with heartbreak. From growing up on the violent streets and watching his cousin die in his arms, Williams chose Auburn over LSU so he could escape the possibility of running into trouble. In the end, he made his own trouble and now his professional future is as uncertain as his past is dark and sad.
“I’m a changed man,” Williams said. “Counseling helped me out and at the end of the day I’ve learned from my mistakes. Just give me that chance to show them, the rest of the team, the general manager, the owner that I’m worth drafting. I’m a diamond in the rough.
“… I’m working to become a better man. I was immature during my college days but I have grown over the months. I know I’m a good person and hopefully they can see that in me.”