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January 26, 2006

DeAngelo Williams playing for fun

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MOBILE, Ala. - DeAngelo Williams is stressed out. The former Memphis tailback isn't fazed by working against some of the nation's top college defenders under the scrutiny of NFL scouts, coaches and executives at the Senior Bowl.

But he had to buy 60 tickets to Saturday's game for family and friends

"I just spent $330 on tickets," Williams grumbled Thursday, shaking his head.

The nation's leading rusher doesn't have too many other complaints about the weeklong audition, making an impression with NFL types for both his running and his ability to charm and get along with his teammates.

It's not just about business for Williams, though he's expected to be among the first few tailbacks - and possibly the first few players - drafted.

"I still have a passion burning inside me to play football," he said. "Right now I play for passion, not for a paycheck.

"It's supposed to be fun and once it stops being fun, I don't want to play anymore."

Williams and Washington State's Jerome Harrison - the nation's top two rushers - lead the Senior Bowl tailbacks. Williams will play for the South and Harrison for the North.

Not present are Southern Cal's Reggie Bush and LenDale White or Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun - all juniors leaving school early for the NFL and not eligible for the game.

If Harrison and Williams were overshadowed during the season by Bush and White, they don't seem too perturbed.

"People fall for the hype," Harrison said. "A lot of these people on the East Coast, they're usually sleeping when I'm playing."

But, he adds, "I'm self-motivated. All that other stuff doesn't bother me. It's politics."

Williams points out that the nation's media is fickle, focusing on Bush entering the Rose Bowl and Texas quarterback Vince Young after he led his team to victory and the national title.

Both Williams and Harrison have packed their resumes with impressive credentials. They were two of three finalists for the Doak Walker Award given to the nation's top running back. Bush won the award.

Harrison ran for 1,996 yards as a senior, more than double his previous season's numbers after transferring from junior college.

Williams was a three-time Conference USA offensive player of the year whose 6,026 career yards rushing ranks fourth all-time in Division I-A.

His 238 yards rushing in the Motor City Bowl in Detroit pushed him past Harrison to finish atop the season rushing charts. It also was his 34th career 100-yard game to break a tie with former Heisman Trophy winners Archie Griffin and Tony Dorsett for the NCAA record.

Harrison, a Michigan native, saw it in person - with tickets compliments of Williams.

"He's probably one of the reasons I performed the way I did in the Motor City Bowl," Williams said. "Before the game I saw him in the stands and he waved at me. He's a great running back and to be able to perform well in front of him and getting his approval was fantastic."

Williams got an early - but not unexpected - potential setback when NFL teams found out he's only 5-foot-8 at the weigh-in on Monday. That's two inches shorter than his listed height at Memphis.

The 215-pounder brushes off that number like a would-be tackler, saying "size isn't anything." Williams has tried to go about proving that in practices.

"I've just been myself since I've been here," he said. "I've done what I've done the last four years at Memphis, and that's play football.

"I don't know if I've impressed anybody since I've been here, but I've had fun."

Williams earned at least one admirer in South coach Mike Nolan of the San Francisco 49ers. Nolan praised him as "a good chemistry player" who's befriended his teammates easily. He was high on Williams' running ability too.

"He's got great balance, he's got great vision," Nolan said. "The sign of a good back is his ability when he sees a hole he can make the cut and not stumble through it.

"A running back that runs like a low-profile race car is what you're looking for, and that's what he runs like."

For more coverage of the Memphis Tigers, check out TigerSportsReport.com.



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