Mike Williams, the all-American from Southern California who would have been a first-round pick in the NFL draft had the court system not blocked his entry, has begun the process of trying to go back to college football.
Williams told a Los Angeles radio station yesterday he is leaving agent Mike Azzarelli and is working with USC in petitioning the NCAA to restore his eligibility. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound wide receiver entered the draft following a court ruling regarding former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett, but that ruling was subsequently overturned, and both players were barred from being chosen.
"There's really not a football player on any level hungrier than I am to play ball," Williams said in an interview on KMPC-AM in Los Angeles.
Azzarelli didn't immediately return a phone message yesterday, but he told the Associated Press he would help Williams in his effort to go back to USC. Azzarelli added that if the NCAA doesn't reinstate Williams, "he's probably got a much stronger case against the NFL."
USC spokesman Tim Tessalone said the school has paperwork from Williams and his family describing his intentions and the circumstances of his case and now will move forward in contacting the NCAA. Normally, any athlete who has signed with an agent forfeits his or her collegiate eligibility. But Williams and USC will argue that because the player's situation is so unusual -- he signed with an agent and turned pro under the rules at the time, only to be told later that he couldn't -- he should be allowed to go back for what would be his junior season with the Trojans in the fall.
"It's so unique, we really believe that the NCAA, in kind of looking out for the welfare of the student-athlete, will understand the situation," Tessalone said. "Mike acted in good faith at the time. He entered [the draft] based on how the law was structured at the time. Then, it changed on him."
NFL rules dictate a player must be three years removed from high school to be eligible for the draft. Clarett, embroiled in academic and legal scandals after leading the Buckeyes to the national championship following the 2002 season, challenged those standards and initially won a decision in district court.
That ruling, however, was stayed, keeping Clarett and Williams out of the April 24-25 draft. On May 24, the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals in New York decided the NFL could continue to dictate the rules under which players enter the league, eliminating the possibility the two players could enter the league through a special supplemental draft.
Williams also will have to apply to the NCAA for an academic progress waiver, Tessalone said. Williams was in good academic standing at the completion of the fall semester, after which USC beat Michigan in the Rose Bowl to win a share of the national championship. But once he declared for the draft, Williams withdrew from school to train. Tessalone said other USC athletes -- particularly in Olympic sports -- have petitioned the NCAA successfully to restore their eligibility even after they leave school for a semester.
"I'm not going to walk in the door scot-free and just start playing football," Williams said in the radio interview. "There's some conditions I have to meet."
Williams caught 95 passes for 1,314 yards and 16 touchdowns during his sophomore season. Should he be allowed to go back, he and quarterback Matt Leinart would make up the most dangerous pass-and-catch combination in college football, and the Trojans -- who once again are loaded -- could be overwhelming favorites to repeat as national champions.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.