The Saban 250: No. 121-130 Includes the Most Unique Crimson Tide Player on This Side of the World

BamaCentral marks the end of the Nick Saban coaching era with the definitive rankings of his top 250 players with the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Sep 15, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jesse Williams (54) stands on the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Alabama defeated Arkansas 52-0.
Sep 15, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jesse Williams (54) stands on the sidelines during the first half of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Alabama defeated Arkansas 52-0. / Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When most people looked at defensive lineman Jesse Williams while he was at the University of Alabama, they didn’t know where to begin.

There was no John Parker Wilson-like haircut, or polo-style shirt that was popular on campus. Williams often didn't wear sleeves, or shoes, even in winter. Socks? Forget it.

Instead, there was the Mohawk, which he would occasionally shave off for a different look, but could always return. War paint would sometimes be applied to his face for games, a lot of it, and then drip down for hours, exposing even more colors and ink.  

Nearly everything else on him was covered by tattoos, even his ear lobes. Some honored his warrior heritage, others his family including a poem written by his father. Mixed in were the personal messages and a few for fun, like the one on the side of his head that read: “Fear is a liar.”

He’s also big, not just in height, but wide. Williams was the kind of person when you saw walking down the street might invoke the thought “If I ever get into a bar fight, he’s someone I want on my side."

So even before he opened his mouth and said, “G′day” with an Australian accent, it could be a lot to take in. You just didn't see someone like him very often in the South, or Alabama.

Yet, while those elements were all part of him, they really didn’t describe what Williams was all about — other than he could be the last person on the planet to go incognito if necessary.

“Laid-back guy,” senior defensive end Damion Square said. “He's a guy that loves to lift weights. He's a guy that's just a cool guy. Laid back, honest, trust-worthy guy.”

Although Williams may have been different on the outside, the real Jesse was much more subdued, a relaxed, personable spirit with an infectious smile and a wicked sense of humor.

He tweeted under the name ThaMonstar, but didn’t watch much TV. He called road games business trips, and had been known to get up before the sun rises and go walking about. Williams also smiled, a lot, which immediately put most people at ease.

At first there was a buzz about some of those things, but it faded. Before long he just became “Jesse” around the football complex and when asked for their best story about No. 54 most teammates couldn’t come up with one (although junior running back Eddie Lacy did joke, “If I did I probably wouldn’t say it because he’s a lot bigger than I am”).

But what he did as a defensive lineman could only be considered remarkable, not only with the cultural transition but in a sport he didn’t grow up around.

While Williams did play a lot of rugby and basketball, he was introduced to football by some friends at the age of 14 and quickly took to it while attending Cavendish Road State High School and playing for the club-level Bayside Ravens and Queensland Sun Devils. When Hawaii offered a scholarship, Williams accepted but didn’t qualify academically, so decided to attend a junior college roughly 7,500 miles away, requiring more than 22 hours of travel.

During his first year at Arizona Western College, Williams anchored the defensive line and registered 46 tackles in 11 games with seven tackles for loss and four sacks. While getting the attention of every major Division I program he was twice named to the All-Region I team in addition to the All-Western States Team. One of the first schools to offer was Alabama, and he eventually chose it over the likes of LSU, Oklahoma State, Southern California, Arkansas, Oregon State, Mississippi and Tennessee.

At the time, Williams was just one of just four Australians playing in the Football Bowl Subdivision at a position other than punter. He was also Nick Saban’s first player from halfway-around the world.

“I kind of missed the break-you-in period of the first couple years, but junior college isn’t a walk in the park either,” Williams said.

“I know a lot of players that come from pretty rough backgrounds and come, I imagine, to change everything around and help benefit themselves. Coach does a really good job of helping us on and off the field with a lot of those things.”

While growing accustomed to the different surroundings, and everything that went with Crimson Tide football, Williams earned a starting job at defensive end on what would be a national championship team. With the departure of three-year fixture Josh Chapman, he slid over to draw many of the same double-teams in the middle during his final season.

“Jesse didn't play much nose guard last year so it's a new position for him, but he played really well for us last year,” Saban said. “He was probably the most underrated player on our defensive team in terms of his consistency and performance.

“He's very athletic for a big guy. He really hasn't gotten bigger, he's gotten stronger. He weighs exactly the same as he weighed last year.”

Everyone found out just how strong when Williams posted a video online of his bench-pressing 600 pounds, and had still not maxed out. Social media went berzerk, with some calling foul from afar and others flat-out refusing to believe it was legit.

They just hadn’t been following Williams’ career.

He couldn’t believe the stir it created.

Again, though, people didn’t see the real Williams, because there’s so much more to being a defensive lineman than brute strength. They don’t know about the extensive time and effort he put into improving his footwork, hand placement, pass-rushing, ability to hold the point and diffuse the offensive attack by collapsing the pocket.

“He's a really good player. The way I feel is that if I can block Jesse in a 3-4 nose, I can block anybody.”

offensive lineman Barrett Jones

While the 2012 season took a little more of a physical toll on Williams, at 6-foot-4, 320 pounds, he seemed suited to play defensive tackle at the next level, or possibly end, although a lot would depend on the defensive scheme and team needs. Being versatile to play more than one position could only raise his status. 

“I think having to step up as like a leader, being a senior, and it being my last season, playing last year I had more experience trying to help other people,” he said. “I think we have a different team. Last year we had a lot of great players. Don’t get me wrong. We have a lot of great players this year, but I think we’re more one. We came together real well. I’m just trying to help get everyone going with that.”

Of course, being that powerful helped too, so if you thought Williams looked intimidating off the field, just imagine what it was like trying to face him on it —  with or without the Mohawk, tattoos and war paint.

“I don’t think anyone wants to see Jesse,” Lacy said. “Big. Strong. Fast. Not too much you can do when he’s right in front of you.

“There’s no spinning away from Jesse. If he’s there, he’s there. Just take it for what it is.”


Note about Jesse Williams:

Williams had his football career cut short with the Seattle Seahawks in May 2015, when he was diagnosed with papillary type-2 renal cell carcinoma requiring kidney surgery. He's since become a coach back in Australia, where he's helping young players play American football. He's married with two kids including a son named Wolf.

The Saban 250: 121-130

The Saban 250 ranks the players who made the biggest impact during his time with the Crimson Tide (2007-23).

121. Jesse Williams, DTL, 2011-12

• Fifth-round selection in 2013 NFL Draft
• Was one of Alabama’s first Internet stars when video of him bench pressing 600 pounds went viral
• Junior college transfer moved into starting lineup as junior and made 24 tackles and a sack
• As a senior had 37 total tackles, a sack and blocked a kick

122. DeQuan Menzie, DB, 2010-11

• 2011 All-American
• Fifth-round selection in 2012 NFL Draft
• The junior-college transfer played in 25 games, with 18 starts
• Had 11 pass breakups as a senior, to go with 37 tackles
• Retuned only career interception for a 25-yard touchdown against Arkansas
• Had 74 career stops, including nine for a loss and 3.5 sacks

123. Jase McClellan, RB, 2020-23

  • Heading a crowded running back room, led the 2023 Crimson Tide with 180 carries and 890 yards to go with eight rushing touchdowns. Added 15 receptions for 137 yards
  • Came back from a knee injury to win the starting job and tally 1,981 career rushing yards on 355 carriers, with 18 rushing touchdowns. Also had 40 career receptions for 409 receiving yards, and six more touchdowns.
  • Sixth-round selection in 2024 NFL Draft

124. John Parker Wilson, QB, 2007-08

• Team captain
• Played two years under Nick Saban
• As a junior was 255-for-462 (55.2 percent) for 2,846 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Had a 114.6 passer rating
• As a senior was 187-for-323 (57.9 percent) for 2,273 yards, 10 touchdowns and eight interceptions

125. Wallace Gilberry, DL, 2007

• 2007 All-SEC
• Had a career-best 80 tackles in 2007, his lone season playing for Nick Saban. Was also credited with 27 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks

126. Cameron Latu, TE, 2019-22

• After playing his season at Alabama at linebacker, switched to tight end for the 2019 campaign
• Set the Alabama single-season record for touchdown catches by a tight end with eight, while making 26 catches for 410 yards during the 2021 season
• Played 51 games for the Crimson Tide, all but two as a tight end. Finished with 56 receptions for 787 yards and 12 receptions
• Third-round selection in 2023 NFL Draft

127. Da'Shawn Hand, DE, 2014-17

• 2017 second-team All-SEC
• Fourth-round selection in the 2018 NFL Draft
• As a senior had 27 tackles including 3.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, and recovered a fumble despite missing three games
• Had 71 career tackles, including 14.5 for a loss and 10 sacks

128. Emil Ekiyor Jr., OL, 2019-22

• 2022 All-SEC
• The versatile Ekiyor could play anywhere along the offensive line, but was a three-year starter at guard
• Ekiyor played in eight games as a reserve in 2019 despite sustaining a knee injury in the opener. He took over the starting job for all 13 games at right guard in 2020
• During his final season he led the team in knockdown blocks with 31. Ekiyor was credited with yielding one sack, nine pressures, eight quarterback hits and committed just one penalty

129. DJ Hall, WR, 2007

• 2007 second-team All-SEC
• Had school-record 13 catches for 185 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-17 rout of Tennessee
• During lone season under Nick Saban had 68 catches for 1,005 yards and six touchdowns. Was first receiver in Crimson Tide history to post consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons

130. Kadyn Proctor, 2023*

Only played one season under Nick Saban, but won the left tackle job as a true freshman and started every game. Was credited with 20 knockdown blocks over 743 snaps. Named to All-SEC Freshman Team by league coaches. Transferred to Iowa during offseason, but transferred back to Alabama during the summer.

After transferring following his first season, tackle Kadyn Proctor is back at Alabama
Jan 1, 2024; Pasadena, CA, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide offensive lineman Kadyn Proctor (74) blocks Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Mason Graham (55) during the first half in the 2024 Rose Bowl college football playoff semifinal game at Rose Bowl. / Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

See Also: The Saban 250: No. 131-140, Alabama's had its Share of Unsung Heroes too

Next up: No. 121-130


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Christopher Walsh

CHRISTOPHER WALSH

Christopher Walsh is the founder and publisher of BamaCentral, which first published in 2018. He's covered the Crimson Tide since 2004, and is the author of 26 books including Decade of Dominance, 100 Things Crimson Tide Fans Should Know and Do Before They Die, Nick Saban vs. College Football, and Bama Dynasty: The Crimson Tide's Road to College Football Immortality. He's an eight-time honoree of Football Writers Association of America awards and three-time winner of the Herby Kirby Memorial Award, the Alabama Sports Writers Association’s highest writing honor for story of the year. In 2022, he was named one of the 50 Legends of the ASWA. Previous beats include the Green Bay Packers, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, along with Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Originally from Minnesota and a graduate of the University of New Hampshire, he currently resides in Tuscaloosa.