He's already in the big leagues

Grambling's Doug Williams passed pros Bradshaw and Harris in the record book
October 31, 1977

For those who are fascinated by numbers, Quarterback Doug Williams, 22, of Grambling commands attention. He stands 6'4", weighs 214 pounds, runs 40 yards in 4.8 seconds and has an arm that makes him a "3," or a great prospect, in the parlance of NFL scouts. No wonder. He is throwing touchdown passes at a rate that, game by game, is rewriting Grambling and NCAA records. If his handiwork continues at the same pace, by December Williams will have an NCAA career mark of 90 touchdown passes. And he may be cradling the Heisman Trophy.

As Grambling's starting quarterback for more than three seasons (he took over the job five games into his freshman year), Williams has led the Tiger offense to an average of 475.1 yards per game, making it the most potent in the nation. Primarily because of Williams' right arm, which has accounted for 1,859 yards and 21 touchdowns in six games, Grambling has a 5-1 record and is in first place in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The school is certain to have its 18th straight winning season, and it has made an exceptional debut as an NCAA Division I team.

Williams' passing plays remind one of the dear, departed American Football League. One-third of his touchdown throws have covered 47 yards or more, and earlier this season, while bombing Alcorn State with five TDs, Williams teamed with Wide Receiver Carlos Pennywell for a 91-yard scoring play. Williams also has combined with Mike Moore, the tight end who leads the Tigers with 32 receptions for 665 yards and six touchdowns, for an 81-yarder, and with Wingback Robert Woods for an 85-yard touchdown.

Curiously, it was a two-yard toss to Running Back Odell Smith that gave Williams his NCAA career record a fortnight ago. On that occasion the usually sedate quarterback blew his cool along with the rest of his teammates. "I'm not the type to be jumping up and down after something good happens," Williams says, "and I figured the record was sure to come, as close as I was to it. I threw the pass and just walked away as I usually do, until I saw the rest of the team coming on the field, jumping. So there wasn't anything for me to do but join the party and I started jumping, too."

Williams has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game but one that he has started for Grambling, and in the 35 games that he has played for the Tigers he has passed for 76 TDs and almost 7,000 yards. Williams has already shattered the state records set by the Steelers' Terry Bradshaw and the Grambling marks of the Chargers' James Harris.

There was a time, though, when Doug Williams hardly looked as if he would be a star quarterback. Growing up in Zachary, La., a Baton Rouge suburb, he was frail and wanted nothing to do with football. Baseball was his sport and pitching his game until his older brother Robert hassled him so much about avoiding contact that he went out for the Chaneyville High football team. Doug chose to be quarterback, but satisfied Robert's demands by playing middle linebacker as well. "I was afraid of the contact," Williams admits, "but Robert told me I was going to play. I knew I wasn't that tough but I went in there anyway because he was tougher."

For a quarterback who is a certain first-round choice in the NFL draft, it is ironic that Williams was recruited by only four schools. He turned down scholarships from Southern U., Mississippi Valley State and Wisconsin before he got a baseball offer—which was one year late—from an LSU coach who didn't know that Williams already was enrolled at Grambling.

Because of his experience and intelligence, Williams is virtually a player-coach for the Tigers, many of whom he directs in drills and game warm-ups. In practice last Thursday, Williams went about his work as usual. For nearly an hour, he called routes, took snaps, dropped back, threw and barely exchanged one word with any member of the five-man coaching staff.

NFL scouts admire both his professionalism and his take-charge temperament as much as his physical ability.

"He's an exceptionally fine person," says Gil Brandt of the Dallas Cowboys. "He's articulate, poised, has good leadership qualities and a lot of desire. He's got a big league arm, enormous hands and a good delivery. He tries to force the ball sometimes and will throw it into a crowd, but these things are correctable. He has a lot more potential as a pro prospect than Harris had when he was a senior."

Williams, an honor student, says, "I like to throw the ball, but if we can run it just as well, it's O.K. with me. All I want is to get it across the goal line. When that happens, I'm satisfied. As for pro football, yeah, I want to play. I figure every day I go to practice, I'm not working up that sweat for nothing."

Against Jackson State last Saturday, Williams enhanced his NFL value with the finest performance of his career. Facing the nation's No. 1 defense—one that had sacked opposing quarterbacks 22 times and had intercepted the same number of passes—Williams was the dominant force in Grambling's 34-7 victory, completing 22 of 33 passes for 372 yards and three touchdowns—without an interception. He also scored on a one-yard sneak. Late in the second quarter, Williams broke a 7-all deadlock by hitting three straight passes for 85 yards in a four-play, 89-yard drive that took just 82 seconds. He showed the same sort of confidence on the final touchdown of the day. After a 12-yard TD pass was nullified by a holding penalty, he hit Moore with a 27-yarder on the run for the score.

While Jackson mounted a good pass rush, Williams was sacked only once for four yards as he racked up much of his yardage on throws underneath the coverage, which, fearful of the bomb, played Grambling's receivers with too much cushion.

In other seasons, Williams realizes he would have had no chance for a Heisman. This year may be different, and if so, Williams acknowledges a debt to the players who preceded him at the small, predominantly black colleges. "In 1974," he says, "when Walter Payton was a senior, somebody mentioned him as a Heisman possibility and I laughed about it myself. A whole lot of other people also looked at it as a joke. But since Walter's been in the NFL, it is no longer a joke. Not only was he from a black school, but a small black school, Jackson State. They said, 'Hey, how could this cat be a Heisman Trophy winner when he doesn't play against the big competition?' But now he's playing against the same people who were supposed to be Heisman caliber—and he's leading the NFC in rushing. So I guess they have to give me and all the other small-school athletes some consideration.

"If I win it, I think it will make Payton happy. I hope so."

For that ambition, not just for his talent, Williams ranks No. 1.

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