On the football field, Azusa Pacific senior Jack Williams sees a lot of action. Starting at safety and running back, he participates in approximately 75 percent of the Cougars' plays. He has 186 yards rushing, 7 rushing touchdowns, 3 receptions, 2 interceptions and 31 tackles. He also returns kickoffs and punts, covers punts and has completed two passes.
At 5 feet 11, 205 pounds, his exploits have drawn the attention of NFL scouts, who learned the way to Azusa Pacific, a school near Los Angeles, when Christian Okoye played there before becoming a second-round draft choice of the Kansas City Chiefs in 1987. The prospect of such a bright future is a stark contrast to Williams's past.
When he was a child, his parents couldn't afford housing, so they raised him and his four siblings mostly at small motels in Downey, Calif. If they couldn't afford the rent, his parents would move to another, similarly run-down motel, returning when they could afford it. One of his sisters was born there.
"I hear guys say, 'The place I live at is horrible,' " Williams said. "I say, 'You don't know anything about that.' "
Fed up with his situation his freshman year of high school, Williams got into an altercation with his father, who kicked him out of the motel. He moved in with a friend, but trouble still found him. "I tried every drug known to man," Williams said.
But Williams slowly shaped up. He didn't play football his first three years at Downey High, but when the starting running back challenged his athleticism, Williams bet the player he could take away his starting position, with the bet's loser agreeing not to play on the team at all. Williams won the bet, became the starter and was named the team's most valuable player.
Williams then spent one year at Long Beach Community College and one at Brigham Young, where he started two games at left cornerback. Meanwhile, Williams had gotten married and his wife became homesick while they were at BYU. BYU Coach LaVell Edwards convinced him that family was more important than football, so he moved back to California.
Williams decided to attend Asuza Pacific of the NAIA to avoid having to sit out a season as a Division I transfer. He scored the go-ahead touchdown late in last season's NAIA title game, then preserved the victory with an interception. Just a junior, he ended with 1,647 yards rushing and was named the NAIA player of the year.
"I was just thrilled. I wasn't even expected to be player of the year," Williams said. "Someone called and said, 'You're the player of the year,' and I was shocked. I didn't even know I was nominated."
This season, Williams is attempting to become the first Azusa Pacific player to have consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Okoye. Experts have said Williams could be drafted as high as the fourth round in next year's NFL draft as a safety. Williams and his wife, Carmen, also have taken in his younger brother Earl during the school year.
"I play football because it is a way out of my society," Williams said. "Every time I step out on the football field, I just play to prove a point to myself and my brother. I want to show that people can get out from a poor society and do something with their life."
Love them or hate them, the Bowl Championship Series rankings make their 1999 debut Monday. Florida State, if it beats Clemson on Saturday night, likely will claim the top spot, since the Seminoles are undefeated and are ranked first in both the Associated Press and USA Today/ESPN Coaches polls.
The BCS rankings' No. 2 spot is up for grabs. Penn State, Nebraska and Virginia Tech are all undefeated and are ranked second, third and fourth, respectively, in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls.
The Hokies are ranked first in four of the eight computer rankings used to partially determine a team's BCS ranking. But Virginia Tech is idle this week, while Penn State plays No. 16 Purdue and Nebraska faces No. 18 Texas. Wins by the Nittany Lions and the Cornhuskers would probably keep them above the Hokies in the BCS rankings. . . .
Purdue is 15-1 at Ross-Ade Stadium since Coach Joe Tiller took over in 1997. The loss was a 42-17 decision to Penn State in 1997. . . .
When Tennessee and Alabama meet Saturday, it will be the first time the teams have met in Tuscaloosa, Ala., since 1930. The game used to be played at Birmingham's Legion Field, but the school paid the city $1 million to move the game to Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Smack the Pac
Just how downtrodden is the Pac-10 this season? We'll keep you informed with a new feature: The Negative Pac-10 Note of the Week, or in this case, notes:
The Pac-10 has only two teams--Stanford and Arizona--with winning overall records, joining the Big West as the only Division I-A conferences so encumbered.
Washington, which had been tied with Stanford for first place, fumbled five times in a 28-7 loss at home to Arizona State last Saturday.
In the third quarter of Stanford's 21-17 victory over Oregon State last Saturday, Beavers running back Ken Simonton--who leads the conference, and is fifth in the nation, in rushing--was stopped on fourth down inches from the goal line. Stanford then marched down the field, only to see running back Kerry Collins fumble at the Oregon State 6-yard line. Simonton and Collins both fumbled twice inside the opponent's 10-yard line.
Surprising Iowa State
Iowa State (4-2) is having its best season in years. The Cyclones haven't had a winning season since 1989 and have had only three winning campaigns since 1980. Iowa State needs two victories to become eligible for its first bowl game since the 1978 Hall of Fame Bowl.
A big reason for the Cyclones' success is running back Darren Davis, who is fourth in the nation in rushing at 154.2 yards per game. Davis is the brother of the New Orleans Saints' Troy Davis, who in 1996 rushed for 2,185 yards, the third-highest season total in Division I-A history. . .
Rice is undefeated in the Western Athletic Conference after a 49-7 win over San Jose State Saturday in Houston. If the Spartans seemed tired, they had an excuse. They didn't arrive in Houston until 8:30 p.m., Central Time, Friday for a game that started at 9 a.m. Pacific Time. A win over Texas Christian on Saturday would put the Owls in good position for their first bowl appearance since the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl. . . .
Since upsetting Wisconsin on Sept. 18, Cincinnati has lost three straight going into Saturday's contest with No. 21 Southern Mississippi. Last Saturday, Alabama-Birmingham beat the Bearcats in Cincinnati. The Blazers previously had not won a Conference USA road game.