The grind of being an NFL nose guard is embraced by Ravens rookie Brandon Williams, a heavyweight defensive lineman accustomed to dirty work and life's hardships.
Before emerging as a draft sleeper from Division II Missouri Southern, Williams spent last summer hauling and cleaning portable toilets.
"Sometimes, you got a little poop on you," said Williams, the Ravens' third-round pick (94th overall). "Every time I was doing that, I said to myself, 'I gotta work harder, I'm not doing this the rest of my life.' It motivated me to get better."
Rather than complain about the task, Williams transformed the humble job into part of his exercise regimen. He would pretend he was lifting an offensive lineman while hoisting the bulky toilets onto the flatbed of his pickup truck.
"I acted like I was playing football," Williams said. "I just made it fun."
Missouri Southern head coach Darryl Daye said it's another example of Williams' work ethic fostered by his mother, who regularly worked two jobs to support her two sons.
"We like to say, 'Brandon is crap house strong,'" Daye said. "No job is too small for him. He's what you want your son to be like: honest and true blue, a pleasure to coach. Brandon came up really rough, but he never let anything stand in his way. His mother is a very old-school, stern woman who raised him to be a Christian and to always have that humble mentality."
Growing up in Kirkwood, Mo., Williams was raised by his mother, Shelly Washington. A single parent, she toiled away on factory lines and drove a bus.
For roughly six months while Williams was a freshman in high school, the family was homeless. They stored most of their belongings in their car, finding places to stay with various family members until their economic situation improved.
"Technically, we were homeless because we didn't have our own place," Williams said. "It was so tough, but my mom dealt with everything and she told me not to worry about it and just focus on school and sports. It grounded me, and I never forget where I came from. The long road is a great road to travel because it makes you appreciate everything you've got.
"My mom was the rock and the glue that held us together. She's loving every minute of this now. She cried when she saw my name go across the screen during the draft. We hugged and embraced and I told her I'm proud to be her son. As a kid, you dream about this."
Coming out of Rockwood Summit High School, Williams was a partial academic qualifier. He enrolled at Harmony Prep in Cincinnati for a prep school year to improve his chances for a college scholarship.
"With what my family was going through, my mind was elsewhere at times and my grades slipped for a while because of that," Williams said. "I dug myself such a hole as a freshman. I wasn't thinking about college at first because none of my family had gone to college."
Williams would go on to become a three-time All-American named the Division II Defensive Player of the Year. Williams piled up 182 career tackles and 25 sacks.
"I'm very proud, I'm still in the stratosphere," Washington said. "I'm still being bombarded by congratulation calls from friends and family in amazement. It's been a whirlwind, it's a great ride.
"I worked a long time and I taught him to be a hard-working young man. I've done every kind of job because it wasn't negotiable. It had to be done and I didn't complain. That's what we're all about."
Under the NFL rookie slotting system, Williams will sign a four-year contract worth roughly $2.698 million that includes a $515,000 signing bonus.
He looks forward to supporting his family after his girlfriend, Alyssa Karel, gave birth to their son, Ryder, last September prior to the Central Missouri game.
"I want to make sure everybody is comfortable and spread the love," Williams said.
Williams is looking forward to his son's christening, and his own upcoming baptism.
"He's so proud of his son, and I know he's going to be a fantastic father," Washington said. "He loves his son to death."
At 6-foot-1, 335 pounds with a massive upper body, Williams bench pressed 225 pounds 38 times at the NFL scouting combine and registered a 29 1/2 inch vertical leap and an 8-6 broad jump.
Williams has become something of an Internet sensation with a YouTube video going viral of him walking several yards on his hands.
"The guy can put both elbows above a basketball rim and he can dunk a basketball any way you want him to," Daye said. "He's so explosive. Brandon has got that quickness off the ball that you don't expect. He's got an impressive big body. When he's in a T-shirt, people notice because he's got so much muscle mass and is super strong.
"The first time I saw him on the hoof was on film out of high school. He was an incredible looking kid. I saw this big cat on his feet all the time. Nobody could knock him down. When they did, he would pop right back up. The guy's an athlete."
A former Buffalo Bills assistant coach who was a starting inside linebacker at LSU, Daye compared Williams to Bills Pro Bowl nose guard Kyle Williams.
"Brandon is actually bigger than Kyle, though, and he's so low to the ground that he gets under offensive linemen's pads and shoves them backward," Daye said. "What I like about him is he's a yes sir, no sir type of kid with great character. He got coached hard here, and the Ravens' coaches can coach him as hard as they want. He listens to everything you tell him."
The Ravens invested a considerable amount of time and resources into scouting Williams.
Area scout Jack Glowik became a fixture on the Missouri Southern campus over the past year.
"I can't remember a scout being more thorough and aggressive and doing a better job than that guy did," Daye said. "If Brandon makes All-Pro, they should give him a raise. He wasn't one of those scouts who comes in here and pretends to do his job. He spent tons of time to get to know Brandon and research him."
It was during the Senior Bowl all-star game where Williams validated himself as a legitimate NFL prospect. During the week of practices, Williams manhandled offensive linemen from the highest levels of college football.
"He dominated the small-school level," assistant general manager Eric DeCosta said. "When you're looking at a small school prospect, that's one thing that you want to see is a guy that dominates in the game. And he did that. He went to the Senior Bowl and he really played well.
"He had a really strong week of practice against Division I players, more experienced guys and he looked like a legitimate 3-4 nose tackle."
Williams is slated to compete with Terrence Cody for the starting nose guard job, but Cody is currently sidelined after undergoing hip surgery after last season.
In the middle of the Ravens' defense, Williams' bulk and nimble feet should make him difficult to budge at one of the most physically demanding positions in the game.
"You've got to be quicker than the guy in front of you, and he knows the count and he knows where he's going, and you've got to mirror him and beat him across his face or beat him to the quarterback," Williams said. "So, it definitely relies on mobility, speed and agility. My power, my leverage, I've definitely got a lower center of gravity. I feel like I fit the position. ..
"I love it. It's great being here competing. [Cody] will make me better. I'll make him better. It's just a team thing. We can both feed off each other's energy and play."
Williams is the first player drafted from his school since the Green Bay Packers drafted offensive lineman Allen Barbre in 2007. As a senior, Williams had 68 tackles, 8.5 sacks and five forced fumbles.
Until he establishes himself in the NFL, Williams plans on carrying around his small school background as if it's one of those portable toilets he used to hoist.
"I've definitely got a huge chip on my shoulder coming from D-II," Williams said. "I'm up for the challenge, and just to get out here and show everybody that, 'Hey, I'm D-II, but I can still play. I'm here. I'm in a Baltimore jersey right now playing with all you guys, D-I's, wherever you're from, and I'm going to play as hard as you, play better than you, and I'm here to stay.'"
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