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Panthers’ Jason Williams relishes his time as the new kid on block

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for 20 years and has been at the paper for 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.
Jets Panthers Football
Bob Leverone - AP
Carolina Panthers' Jason Williams (54) blocks a punt by New York Jets' Ryan Quigley (1) during the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 15, 2013. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

Jason Williams is a good talker, somebody who has been around him says.

He adds: “But Jason is rusty.”

Williams doesn’t do a lot of postgame interviews. He doesn’t get a lot of game balls, either. But he did both Sunday.

Williams, 27, made as big a play as any in Carolina’s 30-20 victory against the New York Jets Sunday.

Early in the fourth quarter the Panthers led 16-13. The Jets had the ball on their 30 and New York’s Ryan Quigley awaited the punt.

Williams, a linebacker who plays on special teams, had noticed earlier that long-snapper Tanner Purdum was charged with blocking him. Williams had tried to go through Purdum. What would happen if he went around him?

Williams, who had not blocked a punt since he played for Chicago’s DuSable High, told special teams coordinator Richard Rodgers that he could beat Purdum.

“He said he believed in me,” Williams says of Rodgers. “He gave me the green light. He said, ‘Hey, go get it.’ 

Rodgers’ confidence was important. He wants his employers to believe in him.

Dallas selected Williams in the third round of the 2009 draft. The Cowboys cut him on Nov. 2, 2010. The Panthers signed him the next day.

The Panthers waived him in August of 2012.

Philadelphia signed him Oct. 9 and waived him Nov. 3. The Panthers signed him on Nov. 5.

Five seasons; three teams. Ever think about quitting football?

“No, no, no, that’s never happened,” says Williams, his postgame eye black covering most of his cheeks. “You don’t grow as a person if you don’t learn from your mistakes. I’ve always had the utmost confidence. I’m a rare breed – big, fast and strong.”

He’s 6-foot-1, 245 pounds and runs the 40 in – “They wrote 4.42 (seconds),” says Williams.

Did they write it or did you?

Williams says they did and also says the 40 doesn’t matter.

“If I’m running 40 yards straight ahead something really bad or really good just happened,” he says.

Williams lines up across from Purdum, which means the Jets deploy their blockers the same way they did on their previous punt. The reason the long-snapper blocks Williams is because instead of sending two gunners sprinting downfield after the punter, the Jets send three.

Williams lines up the same way he did the previous punt. But after Purdum snaps the ball Williams puts on a pretty move to his right and he’s free. Between Williams and Quigley the punter is nothing but grass and air.

“Everything slowed down,” says Williams. “I’m saying, ‘Please don’t kick the ball before I get there, please don’t kick the ball.’ “

Quigley doesn’t.

“I don’t even know which part of my body actually hit the ball,” Williams says.

Why were you so certain you could beat Purdum?

“Me versus a long snapper?” asks Williams. “No offense to any long snappers, but if I get blocked by a guy with his head down something’s wrong with me.”

Nothing was wrong with Williams. He blocked the punt, New York turned the ball over on downs, Williams celerbrated as if he loved life and, four plays later, Carolina’s Mike Tolbert ran into the end zone.

The last veteran listed in the Panther media guide, a player who has started four games in five seasons, received a game ball from Panther coach Ron Rivera.

Don’t we all rejoice when the underdog wins?

“It really makes all the things he’s gone through worth it,” says Panther receiver Steve Smith. “I know he’s thinking, ‘Man, what can I do just to make myself be seen, to retain employment, to retain a job?’

“Anybody who does what he did will get us excited. But when a guy like Jason does, it lifts the whole team.”

Football players are not so different than we are. They want to hit the winning basket and the home run. They want to be seen.

Smith looks up, a little emotional.

“When you play football as a kid, this is what you dream about,” Smith says.

Sorensen: 704-358-5119; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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