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May 30, 2013

Countdown to Labor Day: 95



The countdown to the start of the 2013 season is under way, as Pitt is 95 days away from its Labor Day opener against Florida State at Heinz Field. Panther-Lair.com is counting down the days until the biggest season opener in recent memory.

Today's number is 95, so we're looking a relentless player and his dominant season.

On the list of unique athletes who starred at Pitt, few stick out as much as Mick Williams.

Williams starred at fullback during his career at Monessen and signed with Pitt as a linebacker before moving to the defensive line, a position switch that only led to him gaining an extra 20 pounds.

Never mind the numbers, though; Williams had an uncanny athleticism for a player of any size. He rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in his final two seasons at Monessen and was known for being able to dunk a basketball - according to legend, he even shattered a backboard once - despite standing 6'1" and weighing 260 pounds.

After his senior season at Monessen - one that saw him score 13 rushing touchdowns and two more scores on punt returns - Williams was named to the Associated Press Pennsylvania Class A All-State Team, and he earned a variety of scholarships, including Pitt, West Virginia, Iowa and Indiana.

Williams committed to Pitt after a visit in late January 2005, and it's not difficult to imagine the recruiting meeting when new head coach Dave Wannstedt - who loved smaller, quicker defensive linemen - sat down with then-defensive line coach Bob Junko to discuss Monessen's star who combined "freak athlete" and "jumbo athlete" in a way that had to have the Pitt staff salivating.

When he arrived in the summer of 2005, Williams redshirted as he made the transition to the defensive line, and given Pitt's lack of depth in the trenches, he was expected to contribute as a redshirt freshman in 2006. But he only played in the first three games before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.

Williams played the full 2007 season and started six of the final seven games as the line became the strength of Pitt's defense. He recorded eight tackles for loss and three sacks, and he built on that performance in 2008 with 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. But recurring injuries always seemed to pop up for Williams, like the concussion that kept him out of Pitt's October game at Navy that season.

2009 was different. Healthy and in full command of his abilities, Williams was a monster. He recorded 17 tackles for loss and five sacks, and while those numbers aren't the most in Pitt history - Aaron Donald eclipsed both totals in 2012 - the sheer intensity and passion of Williams' play set apart his 2009 season as one of the most dominant in recent memory.

Williams' 2009 season reads as one accomplishment after another. He recorded eight tackles twice and had multiple sacks in two games; he forced a fumble against Buffalo that was recovered by linebacker Greg Williams and returned for a 50-yard touchdown; and he ranked No. 2 in the Big East and No. 23 nationally in tackles for loss.

But Williams was never more dominant than he was on Sept. 26, 2009. Pitt faced N.C. State in Raleigh that day, and while the Panthers lost the game 38-31, Williams played so well that he almost overshadowed the performance of Wolfpack quarterback Russell Wilson.

Wilson threw for 322 yards and four touchdowns that day, but his performance was distinguished by his ability to make plays when things went down, as evidenced by his 91 rushing yards. But Williams should get credit for that, too; he was so dominant against N.C. State's interior offensive line that official scorekeepers should have created a stat for broken-plays-caused.

On one play in the second quarter, N.C. State ran a running play away from Williams, who had gained quick penetration and was deep in the backfield while running back Jamelle Eugene took off for a first down. But Williams was never truly out of the play; he reversed course, caught up to Eugene, and forced a fumble. It was Pitt's bad luck that the ball bounced right into the hands of Wilson for a 19-yard gain, but the penetration, turn, and pursuit by Williams was something to behold.

In some respects, Williams was almost too dominant against N.C. State that day, since he often gained penetration so quickly that Wilson was forced to scramble before the defensive ends could establish a perimeter around the pocket.

Williams finished the game with eight tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss - both career highs - but his impact far surpassed the numbers, and at the end of the season he was named Big East Co-Defensive Player of the Year (an honor he shared with Pitt defensive end Greg Romeus).

Passion and intensity defined Williams. When he was at his best, he often tapped out for a play or two, not because he was physically winded but because he was emotionally spent. He played with that much fire, and it combined with his size and freak athleticism to make him absolutely disruptive.

That might be the best word to describe Williams: disruptive. Other players have been freak athletes and other players have been dominant, but few, if any, have been as disruptive as Mick Williams.


Countdown: 96 - The biggest win in Pitt history
Countdown: 97 - A dominant current Panther
Countdown: 98 - A transition year
Countdown: 99 - Hugh Green
Countdown: 100 - A look at Pitt in 1913






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