Everywhere Jimmy Williams goes on the University of Nebraska campus, he sees huge posters of a muscular football player holding weights over his head. In a smaller picture inserted at the bottom, a Nebraska player wearing No. 96 is tackling a running back.
Both pictures show the same man: Jimmy Williams, who played high school football at Wilson in the District of Columbia and who is now a legitimate all-America candidate for the Cornhuskers.
"When I see that poster, the only thing I can think of is: 'I've come a long way, a very long way," said Williams, a 6-foot-3, 227-pound senior. "But I'm not shocked or surprised, because I know I earned every bit of that poster. I worked like crazy from the day I walked in out here."
That was four years ago. Jimmy, 21, and his brother Toby, 22, who also played at Wilson, thought they could play big-time college football, even if no one else did.
They turned down scholarship offers from Richmond and Virginia Union and wrote dozens of letters to colleges begging for tryouts. Nebraska was one of two Division I schools (Auburn was the other) to reply and invite them to visit. Jimmy, Toby and their father James Williams liked what they saw and enrolled at their own expense. The first day of summer practice, the Williams brothers showed up, along with a handful of other walk-ons, and impressed the coaches immediately.
"A couple of schools appeared interested but we decided on Nebraska because it was a well-known football school and they were willing to look at both Jimmy and Toby," said James Williams, who has eight children. "Being walk-ons, we knew it would be tough. We only asked that the kids be given a fair chance and honest appraisal. They gave us that."
Cornhusker Coach Tom Osborne and his staff were impressed with the Williams' brothers zeal and potential.
"It's not all that unusual for walk-ons to make the team," said Osborne. "We get maybe eight or nine a year. Both players looked good on the films we saw but the league didn't appear that strong. They looked good enough to invite out for a tryout. They made the team, but we didn't have any scholarships left, so they had to pay their way.
"Once they started to progress, we put them on scholarship. Jimmy is the fastest player on the team and has more physical ability than any other defensive end who has played here. He has to be one of, if not the best, defensive ends in the country.
"Toby is the fastest lineman, and sideline to sideline is probably the best lineman who has ever played here. We didn't plan for the two brothers to play beside one another; it just worked out that way. Of course, they wanted it that way and maybe it helps them."
Nebraska did find summer jobs for both to help offset the $3,000-$3,500 yearly tuition. But the first year was a struggle.
"Believe me, that first year paying those bills was tough," Jimmy Williams said. "Everything was new to us: the environment, the quality of football, everything. A couple of times, they cut off our food because we were a couple of days late paying our bill. Things got ugly for a while."
Jimmy, who weighed only 185 pounds his freshman year, was an instant success. He began building up his body and learning the Cornhusker defensive schemes. He played all five games on the freshman team and was awarded a full scholarship during the winter. Toby played well on the freshman team and was put on scholarship for his sophomore season.
"Overall, it was a good decision for us to come to Nebraska," Jimmy said. "We learned a lot, matured and saw a different part of the country. The academic work wasn't that tough, but I had to discipline myself to study. As far as football was concerned, I didn't learn much at Wilson and, fundamentally, I was very poor when I got here. But Toby was here and we leaned a lot on each other. We can credit much of our success to each other."
The potential the Cornhusker coaching staff saw in Jimmy became reality last year. Blessed with exceptional speed (4.34 in the 40), Jimmy led the team in first hits with 53.
Against Penn State, he got two sacks and a fumble recovery in a 21-7 victory on national television and was named defensive player of the game by ABC-TV. In Nebraska's 31-7 Sun Bowl triumph over Mississippi State last year, Jimmy was named most valuable lineman after he recovered two fumbles and forced two pass interceptions.
"If Jimmy plays like he can play, he should be numbered with the greatest defensive ends this school has ever had," George Darlington, the Nebraska defensive coach, said. "I think it's realistic to expect a first-team all-American season from him. I don't see any better candidates. I also think Jimmy has a legitimate chance to win the Outland Trophy."
Gil Brandt, vice president of the Dallas Cowboys, who rarely misjudges college talent, said Jimmy is "definitely a first-round pick, and his brother Toby will go high his senior year.
"We think Jimmy will make an excellent outside linebacker. He's quick, strong and aggressive. We timed him six times and he ran between 4.42 and 4.68. He has fine speed. He has the potential to be a fine pro player."
Being compared to former Nebraska all-Americas Willie Harper (now with San Francisco) and Derrie Nelson (Cleveland) has fueled the desire that keeps the brothers constantly in the weight room.
"It's very important I forget about all that preseason stuff and play the kind of football I know I can play," said Jimmy, who has a 2.67 grade point on a 4.0 scale and will be 16 hours short of getting his physical education degree in May. "If I do, those things take care of themselves. The same goes for the NFL draft. I'm not thinking about being a top draft pick or anything like that. If I have the good year, that, too, takes care of itself."
Toby, the more introverted of the two brothers, has also turned into a football workaholic.
"I just want to keep working," he said. "I appreciate my parents for the way they brought us up. If we lived in an atmosphere where everything had been done for us, we would never be here. God gave us talent but we still had to work to realize it."
Only a junior (he was redshirted), the 6-3, 255-pound Toby Williams has the speed (4.7 in the 40) and strength (he bench-presses more than 350 pounds) to be compared with such former Nebraska standouts as John Dutton (Dallas) and Mike Fultz (New Orleans).
Still, success has not always come easy for the Williams brothers. When Jimmy and Toby were sophomores at Wilson (Toby repeated a year and transferred from DuVal High School in Prince George's County), both told their father they had no desire to play football. The elder Williams, a husky 6-2, 240-pound engineer with the Navy Department and a football fanatic, was not pleased with his sons' decision but accepted it.
"I had followed Jimmy and Toby along with all my other kids' careers with the Glen Arden Boys Clubs' leagues and I knew they had potential. So I was very disappointed they didn't go out," said Williams, a graduate of now-defunct Armstrong High School and of Howard University. "We talked about it, but you can only push so much. At that time, neither had any motivation to play. I didn't push them."
The following year both yielded to Williams' gentle but tough persuasion and played. That decision turned out to be a near nightmare for the Williams family.
"Neither my sons nor I was overly happy with the program there," said Williams. "The kids didn't feel they were getting a fair break or learning anything. I agreed. Jimmy played guard and linebacker and Toby was a second-string tackle.
"I went to every game but I never said a word to the coach (Bernard Hogans). I told them to talk to the coach about what was happening. Soon, we were painted as malcontents and complainers. Toby eventually started and both he and Jimmy did very well."
The next year, Absalom (Abby) Williams joined his two brothers and started at center.
Wilson finished 6-3-1 in '77 and seniors Jimmy and Toby Williams were all-Interhigh league selections. But neither was offered the type of scholarship he felt he deserved. So, every evening James Williams wrote colleges, asking for tryouts for his sons.
"People, Hogans included, told us flat out we couldn't play Division I," Jimmy Williams said. "They tried to discourage us from even thinking about the big schools. I knew I could play Division I ball. I wasn't all that impressed with the coaching at Wilson or in the Interhigh for that matter. When we went to Nebraska, we were far behind in fundamentals. I've talked to a lot of other players who have come out of the Interhigh and they had to go through the same thing. We were weak in the basics and had to start all over."
Hogans, who coached at Wilson five years before going into insurance, said he stopped trying to get his players into big schools because he felt they had a better chance of making it in a small school.
"I made up my mind that unless the big schools came looking, I wouldn't go seeking," Hogans said. "We didn't have that many kids who could go major college, anyway. Jimmy was a tremendous athlete and we knew he would be good.
"Toby was raw and was just starting to develop when he was a senior. We didn't have any problems during the year. Most of the hassles started when the season was over.
"I had a few rounds the next year with the father, who felt Abby was getting a bad deal. He wanted to play one position and I felt he would be more valuable playing another," Hogans said. "But I'm not bitter about anything. I'm very happy over Jimmy and Toby's success."
No one is more elated than the father, who has applied for a two-week leave so he can fly to Lincoln, Neb., and watch Nebraska play Florida State, Penn State and Auburn on consecutive weekends. "I'll go back and catch the Oklahoma game," he said, "if the season is going well."
Otherwise, James Williams will busy himself with his youngest son, Bert, and daughter Antonia. Bert, a junior, is a starting tailback at Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Antonia, also a junior, plays volleyball and basketball at Wilson. Another son, Mark, is completing his senior year of high school in Virginia. Abby, 19, who the father said became disenchanted with football because of his high school experience, is a sophomore at Nebraska but is not playing football.
The father is especially proud of the way Jimmy and Toby have matured.
"When they came home this summer, we went to see Bert play a summer basketball game," James said. "I was hollering at the officials -- I always have something to say -- when they grabbed my arm and said, 'Dad, we don't do that.' My own sons got on me."
And what did James Williams do?
"Hey, they're bigger and stronger than I am now," he said. "I talk tough but I don't grab them anymore."