They are so different.
There is the slow-talking Texan. The cool Florida guy. The chatty West Coast kid. Yet, when college football's three most famous Williams met this spring in Arizona at the Playboy All-America team gathering, they hit it off instantly.
It's obvious what Texas' Roy Williams, Washington's Reggie Williams and USC's Mike Williams have in common. They are all super-sized wide receivers who are soon to be first-round NFL picks. You could make a case for each of them as the nation's best college wideout.
Usually, top college players don't meet unless it's at the end-of-the-season awards shows or maybe on a recruiting visit. These three, however, have developed a fraternity of sorts.
"Roy's like the big brother to all of us," says Reggie. "I was trying to do things like he did when I was a freshman."
On the field, they seem quite similar. Roy, the oldest, is listed at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds. Reggie, a junior, is 6-4, 220. Mike, the youngest, is 6-5, 230 -- and at least two inches taller in reality than Roy, the Texas receiver concedes.
In terms of style, Mike's the most physical, although Reggie is pretty rough too and has track speed that is close to Roy's sub-4.4 second 40-yard dash burst.
Off the field, Mike says he and Roy are low-key, laid-back guys while Reggie is the loud one. "Me?" wondered the Husky when told of Mike Williams' description of him. "Nah, that's crazy. I don't talk that much. Roy's quiet. But Mike, now, he'll talk."
Roy and Reggie actually had been on the same field before -- two years ago when Roy's Longhorns beat Reggie's Huskies in the Holiday Bowl. Last year, Mike's Trojans also beat Reggie's team.
In Arizona this spring, the trio enjoyed ragging each other over the usual stuff: whose team is best; who will have the best numbers and; between Mike and Roy, whose home state produced the best football players. Of course, Reggie couldn't be left out so he jumped on Roy's side. "If Florida's so great, why didn't you stay there for college?" he asked Mike.
"Because I'm just stretching the arm of Florida," Mike shot back.
But it's not all just trash talk. This July, as Washington was dealing with the fallout from Husky coach Rick Neuheisel's controversial firing, Mike called Reggie to give him a pep talk and to make sure he was OK. "I told him, 'Don't throw your season away before it starts,'" he says.
They all try and call each other every week just to check in on how the other guys are doing. Roy says he calls every week just to talk a little trash. Except for this week.
"Nope, I wasn't about to make that call," he says with a chuckle. "Not this week."
So who's the best of the bunch? "Probably Reggie," says Roy. "He really has the ability to go get the ball. Mike is still young, and me, I'm just an old dude."
I got to see an Oregon scrimmage last spring. While in Eugene, I spent a fair amount of time around the Duck D-line and I kept on hearing about what a great spring that senior tackle Junior Siavii was having.
Can't say I was shocked. I remember once talking to a JC coach who said he thought the 6-4, 325-pound Siavii was the best defensive lineman he ever saw. When I asked another coach in that league, he thought Siavii was "a coach killer."
That day of the scrimmage, defensive tackle Igor Olshansky was sitting out since he'd just had back surgery. Turns out, Siavii was out too. He had missed a class or something, so the coaches wanted him to run the stadium stairs. Junior actually didn't run them. He kind of walked up one step, turned, watched a play, walked up another step, watched a play. That went on for the whole scrimmage.
It was pretty funny.
"That's just Junior," fellow tackle Haloti Ngata would say.
All the linemen love Siavii. He is an easy guy to like, the live-wire of the group. But until this season, he's been something of an enigma. Now, though, with the 335-pound Ngata sidelined for the year with a knee injury, Siavii is playing like a first-round pick.
"He could be a top-15 pick if he really wanted it," says one scout this week. "He's got so much athleticism for being 320. He moves like he's 270. But you always wondered if he cares. Maybe he's grown up."
Scouts will find out just how much Siavii, a native of American Samoa, cares this weekend. Michigan and Heisman hopeful Chris Perry are coming to Eugene. So are Siavii's parents, who reportedly have not seen him play before. If Oregon has a shot at derailing Perry, it starts with Siavii.
If you watched Louisville play last year, chances are you remember seeing Cardinals QB Dave Ragone running for his life thanks to an offensive line that was always overmatched. Louisville finished the season second-to-last in Conference USA in sacks allowed.
However under new coach Bobby Petrino, the Cards front five looks radically different. In fact, despite playing two teams with top sackmen (Kentucky's Vincent Burns and Syracuse's Louis Gachelin) they have only given up one sack -- and that was on their back-up QB when he was trying to throw a last-second Hail Mary.
Credit new Louisville line coach Mike Summers for doing wonders mentally as well as physically with his new guys.
"The first thing we did was rebuild them psychologically," says Summers, "because their egos and self-esteem were about as low as they could be."
Summers' plan consisted of ways to pull the group together as a unit so they would believe in each other. He did that by having dinners at his home, organizing softball games and fishing outings, and inviting the line to go frog gigging. Then, in camp he stressed technique work, hammering home points on body positioning and understanding leverage.
The results, thus far, have been impressive, especially when you consider the sack total -- and RB Eric Shelton's 143-yard per game rushing average. Summers' star up front could be sophomore Jason Spitz, who neutralized the powerful Gachelin, keeping him to just one tackle.
Last year, a freshman named Smith pumped life into the listless Missouri offense. This year, another freshman named Smith is charging up the Tigers' woeful defense.
Missouri's new miracle man is Brian Smith, a 6-4, 212-pound speed-rushing defensive end from Denton, Texas, who has been huge in turning around a unit that was 107th in the nation in total defense in '02. (MU is fourth in the country now, yielding only 7.3 ppg.) Through the Tigers' first three games, Smith has five sacks and forced three fumbles, giving Mizzou a presence it hasn't had since Justin Smith was back in Columbia.
"He has an unbelievable sense for finding the ball," says Tigers D-line coach Craig Kuligowski. "He's also got an unbelievable motor. He's just a great effort guy."
Smith is pretty light for a DE. Kuligowski says he was actually smaller than they thought he'd be when they were recruiting him, but added that Smith compensates with heart and quickness. Kuligowski would love to see Smith develop a couple of more pass-rush moves, (right now he does most of his damage with speed rushes) but says the redshirt freshman is simply a natural pass rusher. Which shouldn't come as a surprise since Smith had 35 sacks his senior year of high school.
Mark Kornfeld spent his first three years in Illinois as a scrub backup QB buried on the depth chart. In the spring he approached Illini coach Ron Turner about trying a switch to safety. Turner, seeing a bigger hole at wideout, suggested receiver. Smart move. The 6-1, 200-pound junior has shown terrific hands and surprising quickness, blossoming into the team's go-to guy and the Illini's version of Tom Waddle. Kornfeld has 11 catches for 170 yards.
Heard of Monroe Weekley? Pitt fans have. Three years ago he was one of the Panthers' top linebacking recruits.
Weekley sat out his freshman year at Pitt and was removed from the team for disciplinary reasons the following spring. He resurfaced at Arizona Western CC and landed at Kansas this summer where he has given the Jayhawks a jolt at DE. The 6-4, 256-pound Weekley, a guy with good speed and outstanding change of direction, had two sacks and three tackles for loss last weekend and has emerged as a much-needed big-play man for the Jayhawks.
Will Blackmon deserves more pub. He probably was the top defensive back recruit Boston College had in a decade. But the book on the sophomore CB was that he liked to gamble too much and could get sloppy. However, as UConn found out, Blackmon, the Eagles' most athletic player, might be a lot more polished than critics thought. He made two interceptions, along with a team-high 11 tackles, including three perfect open-field hits.
Speaking of the Eagles, we're not predicting an upset, but we think the BC-Miami game could be the tightest of all the top matchups this Saturday because of how powerful the Eagles O-line can be and also because of the great Derrick Knight.
Andreu Swasey isn't an easy man to impress. We asked Swasey, Miami's strength coach, about free safety Sean Taylor for a story in the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine. Swasey, once Houston's secondary coach, thinks -- even at 230 pounds -- Taylor could be a shutdown corner.
"You put him right up on somebody and it's over. You're not going anywhere," Swasey says. "His ability is unlimited. It's not just that he runs a 4.38 at 230 or that he can power clean 320. Everything he does is so graceful. It's his change of direction. His body control. His acceleration. The way he can deliver blows. It's all so effortless."
Wideout Kevin Beard says Taylor could be an All-American receiver if he played offense: "He'd be another Andre Johnson," says Beard.
Expect to see a lot more of Purdue true freshman Bernard Pollard. The 6-2, 212-pound strong safety (8 tackles) was one of the keys to the Boilers shutting down Wake Forest's rushing attack, holding Wake to 56 yards on the ground, 125 below its average. Pollard's work in run support could be huge with upcoming games against Notre Dame, Wisconsin and Michigan.
After Tulane ended a 24-game losing streak against SEC schools by beating Mississippi State on Sept. 13, Conference USA was 3-1 against SEC teams. Memphis beat Mississippi, Louisville beat Kentucky and South Florida fell to Kentucky.
Other numbers that jumped out at us at the season's quarter pole: Penn State being last in the Big Ten in rushing defense; the club is 70 yards worse than the next worst defensive unit. Penn State is giving up almost 246 rushing yards per game.
Wyoming QB Casey Bramlet, a 6-4, 225-pound senior, finally is putting it all together. The strong-armed Bramlet, who has been plagued by poor decision-making early in his career, leads the Mountain West in passing, having completed 60 percent of his passes for 279 yards per game. The best stat for him, though, is his TD-INT ratio: 8-0.
Matthias Askew, an unheralded DT for Michigan State, probably is off to a better start than even his best friend Ohio State CB-WR Chris Gamble. Askew, who grew up with Gamble in Fort Lauderdale, already has five sacks in the Spartans' first three games.
West Keliikipi, a running back for Hawaii, had a nice debut against USC, getting 18 yards on two carries. Not bad for a guy who hadn't played in five years. Keliikipi, a surprisingly fleet 6-1, 266-pound freshman, had trouble getting financial aid out of high school and worked as a welder to save money for college.
As a short follow-up to the folk hero jersey item in last week's column, we give you The Richie Incognito Fan Club site (http://richieincognitofanclub.homestead.com/). On it, you'll find the usual stuff, stories, pictures and even a poll, asking users to vote for the top O-linemen in football history. As of 9 a.m. ET on Wednesday, Incognito (79 percent) was edging Anthony Munoz (9 percent), Dwight Stephenson (5 percent) and Art Shell (3 percent) out for top honors.