- Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPNNewYork.com
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Jacquian Williams was a little nervous as he prepared for his vertical jump at the South Florida pro day.
There were NFL scouts watching his every move and Williams didn't want to ruin any shot at getting to the next level.
That's when New York Giants general manager Jerry Reese said something that not only put Williams' mind at ease but also inspired him.
Reese asked Williams how great it would be if he and his old college teammate, Jason Pierre-Paul, were reunited in New York.
"He told me he was going to make that happen," Williams said. "He sounded pretty sure we are going to tear everything up. He said, 'Get ready, I am going to bring you up on a visit and make sure you continue playing with each other.'"
Not long after that conversation, the 6-foot-3 linebacker made the leap to the pros. Reese drafted Williams, joining him and Pierre-Paul for a third time after the two were teammates at Fort Scott Community College (Kan.) and South Florida.
The Giants are hoping that Williams will follow in the path of Pierre-Paul, last year's first-round pick who displayed potential as enormous as his wing span and made an impact on special teams and on defense late in the season.
Like the defensive end, Williams is a raw, athletic defender who is still very much in his infancy as a football player. He's played just one full season as a starting linebacker at the major college level.
Off the field, though, teammates call him "old man," not just for his taste in old-school R&B music but also because he has had to grow up way beyond his years.
At 22, Williams is the father of three children. He hopes his new life in New York will help provide a better life for them.
"I still got my dreams of us being in a nice house and us being together," Williams said. "I've definitely had to grow up real fast."
Fast is the first thing virtually every coach and scout notices about Williams (whose first name is pronounced Jah-Kwon) on the football field.
Kevin Patrick, South Florida's defensive tackles coach, remembers the first time he saw Williams on a recruiting trip to Fort Scott three years ago.
"This is a skinny kid who can run," Patrick recalled of his first impression of Williams.
Patrick found another incredible athlete on that recruiting trip, as well -- a defensive end with arms as long as the New York skyline named Jason Pierre-Paul.
Williams and Pierre-Paul became friends almost instantly at Fort Scott. Both were from Florida and very far away from home in Kansas.
But for Williams, the transition was not going smoothly. At first, he didn't take things seriously, according to his mother. Williams was supposed to go to Akron out of high school but didn't qualify academically. At Fort Scott, Williams was redshirted his first year and he admittedly partied and had fun.
But he soon got homesick and wanted to quit football and return to Florida. His mother reminded him of the responsibility he had as a father to three infants.
"He called me a lot of times in tears," Williams' mother, Theolanda, said. "I had to push him. That really made him become a man. I said this is something you are going to need to become that man."
Theolanda knew what could happen if her son strayed away from football and school. She raised four children, including Jacquian, as a single mother working at Chase. She had to take a second job at times in construction and later worked in daycare to make ends meet.
So now that her son had three kids of his own, Theolanda wanted him to stay in school and keep playing football. While Williams was in Kansas, Theolanda and her oldest daughter helped the three mothers of Jacquian Jr., Jashira and Jakai whenever they needed aid or a babysitter.
Williams tried sending home money from time to time but Theolanda, who currently trains employees at JC Penney, wanted her son to concentrate on school and football.
Williams and Pierre-Paul were soon being recruited by a few major schools. Williams wanted to go home and chose South Florida. Pierre-Paul agreed to do the same.
During their first year with the Bulls, Pierre-Paul emerged as an athletic force and became the 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft. Williams didn't play very much, appearing as a reserve in 13 games and registering 28 tackles.
His grades slipped as life hit him as hard as an oncoming fullback. Williams struggled to juggle major college football, school and trying to be a father to three kids at the same time.
"I just had to grow up," he said. "When I was away from home, I did my share of partying. I knew being at home, that couldn't work. Partying, having kids, school and football was not going to work and just watching my teammates, seeing that even they are tired from school, football and partying I knew I had to be a provider early."
Four things helped Williams focus on school and football. South Florida hired Skip Holtz as head coach, and Holtz added Mark Snyder as his defensive coordinator and linebackers coach. Theolanda credits Snyder with being a major influence on her son.
Pierre-Paul's sudden rise to the NFL also inspired Williams and made him believe that he could perhaps do the same.
And his children motivated him.
"He was like a different individual," Theolanda said. "He changed from that year to the next, even around the house with the kids. His attitude changed, everything changed."
The linebacker decided to try to lead by example and was a tireless worker in the film room and on the field. When the players would walk to the practice field, they had to go through a fence before getting onto the field. Williams, voted a team captain his senior year, would sprint full speed from the fence 60 yards to the area where players stretched every day to start practice.
Snyder, who coached linebackers A.J. Hawk and Bobby Carpenter at Ohio State as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator, sounds as if he is still in awe when talking about Williams' tireless motor.
"We were playing at Florida this year and it was the hottest game I've ever been to," said Snyder, who also coached Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw as head coach at Marshall. "I pulled Jacquian out for three plays. I said, 'Son, I got to keep you fresh.' He said, 'Coach, I'm not tired. I'm not even hot.' Even [then Florida coach] Urban Meyer said this is the hottest day I've had since I've been at Florida."
Williams didn't even want to be subbed out for a cornerback in nickel packages, begging to cover receivers.
"I have never seen a kid that loves to run as much as that kid," Snyder said. "He loves to run."
Williams had 71 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one interception during his only year as a full-time starter and caught the Giants' eyes.
Like Pierre-Paul, he's raw and still growing mentally and physically. He needs to learn defensive schemes and technique. He's a linebacker that likes to chase down runners in space and ran a 4.63 on grass during his pro day. And since the season ended, Williams has gone from 216 pounds to 233 just by eating and training properly.
"JPP is an anomaly Jacquian can't do backflips like JPP," Patrick said. "JPP is a pretty special athlete but Jacquian is a freak, too. He is still growing. That is the scary thing."
Theolanda has seen her son grow into a man off the field, as well. He hopes to eventually finish school through online courses and get his degree. And soon, she hopes to visit New York for the first time and watch her son play in the New Meadowlands Stadium.
"He and Eli [Manning] just to see that is amazing," she said.
The tandem Reese wants to see is Williams and Pierre-Paul together again as teammates for a third time.
"We keep following each other," Williams said. "I am definitely seeing that as a lesson that maybe we should be together."
Giants draftee Jacquian Williams looks to make a new life for his young family.