Williams was a breakout player for the North Carolina defense last fall. Playing alongside veterans Quinton Coples and Tydreke Powell, the junior college transfer racked up 54 tackles and 2.5 sacks. With the departure of Coples and Powell to the NFL, Williams will assume the leadership role along the defensive line.
"Last year I was looked at as just another guy, but this year they're looking at me to make plays," Williams told reporters at Saturday's Meet the Heels event. "Last year we had guys all across the front line that could make plays. This year, they're looking at me and they say, ‘Sly, we need you to make plays for us, because we don't have the depth here that we used to in the past.'"
In order to be that playmaker, the Jefferson City, Mo. product must be able to play numerous positions and techniques along the defensive line. The new 4-2-5 scheme installed by Dan Disch and Vic Koenning allows the defense to be more aggressive, but requires the players be more versatile. Williams' weight last season made it tough for him not only to play multiple spots along the line, but to stay on the field as well.
When Fedora was hired last December, Williams said he weighed 335 pounds. The new staff suggested he lose 30 pounds, and by the time first summer session ended in late June, Williams was down to 305. On Friday, Williams checked in at a svelte 299 for the start of fall camp.
"He came into camp in excellent shape, excellent strength," Fedora said. "Just had a tremendous summer evidently and he's a great kid, first of all. His personality, his will to win. He does exactly what you ask him to do when you ask him to do it. He's a heck of a football player. I think he would be a great player in anybody's defense."
As anybody who has tried to lose weight knows, there are no shortcuts. It requires dedication and hard work. It was no different for Williams, who climbed the equivalent of 150 flights of stairs on the Stairmaster everyday over the summer. That is approximately 1,500 steps per day. For comparison's sake, it takes 1,860 steps to reach the top of the Empire State Building.
"When it comes to losing weight, it's hard, because it's a lot harder than to gain the weight, obviously," Williams said. "One of the things that let me lose weight was the new strength coach (Lou Hernandez) that we have… I could sense the sense of urgency that he wanted me to lose weight, so I got on it immediately."
Gone are two All-ACC players who played alongside Williams last fall. He is now the face of a North Carolina defensive line that has produced seven NFL draft picks since 2008. A thinner Williams looks to build on that tradition in 2012.
"I feel like a better conditioned man," Williams said. "Not a new man, but a better conditioned man and a man that's ready to go out on September 1st and win 12 games, to be an All-ACC player and help my defense win a lot of games."
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