2004: For a while, it appeared that All-American wide receiver Williams-a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and Biletnikoff Award-would not return for his 2004 junior season. Following his 2003 All-American season, he applied for the NFL draft as a second-year sophomore based on a court ruling that struck down the NFL's requirement that its players had to be out of high school for 3 years. But he was not selected because of a judicial stay on that ruling. Then, when that ruling was overturned in the late spring, he sought to have his collegiate eligibility restored by the NCAA (he had become ineligible because he had signed with an agent and had not enrolled in classes in the 2004 spring semester). As of early August, he was awaiting the NCAA's ruling.
2003: Just a sophomore in 2003, Williams was one of the nation's most dynamic and dangerous wide receivers. Overall in 2003 while starting all 13 games, he had 95 catches for 1,314 yards (13.8 avg.) and 16 TDs, plus he gained 26 yards on 3 rushes (8.7 avg.) off of backwards passes, completed both of his pass attempts for 38 yards (including a 15-yard TD against Michigan in the Rose Bowl), blocked a field goal and made a tackle. He was sixth nationally in receptions (7.3, second in the Pac-10) and 10th in receiving yards (101.1, third in Pac-10). His 16 TD catches in 2003 were a USC season record, the most in the Pac-10 in 2003 and the most by a Trojan in a season since Marcus Allen scored 23 in 1981. His 95 catches in 2003 were second on the USC season ladder (third on the Pac-10 list) and his 1,314 receiving yards in 2003 were fourth on the USC season chart (10th on the Pac-10 ladder). He had 7 100-yard receiving games in 2003. A finalist for the 2003 Biletnikoff Award, he was eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting and was the CBS.Sportsline.com National Player of the Year. He was a 2003 consensus All-American as he was named to the 2003 AP, Football Writers, Walter Camp, ESPN.com, SI.com, Collegefootballnews.com and Rivals.com All-American first teams (the first All-American first team Trojan wide receiver since Keyshawn Johnson in 1995 and the first USC sophomore honoree since Tony Boselli in 1992), The Sporting News All-American second team and the 2003 All-Pac-10 first team. He also made the ESPN.com All-Pac-10 and Collegefootballnews.com All-Pac-10 first teams. He won USC's Player of the Game versus UCLA award. He was named to the prestigious 2003 Playboy Pre-Season All-American team. At Auburn, he had a game-best 8 catches for 104 yards with a 5-yard TD. He grabbed a game-high 10 passes for 124 yards, including a pair of touchdowns (a 1-yarder to open USC's scoring and then an 18-yarder in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach) against BYU. He had 3 grabs for 70 yards (with a 33-yard TD) against Hawaii, then 6 catches for 96 yards at California (plus he was credited with a 17-yard run while catching a backwards pass). He had 5 catches for 108 yards at Arizona State. He tied a USC game record with 3 TD catches (40, 18 and 3 yards, all in the second quarter) while collecting 7 receptions for 129 yards against Stanford. He added 9 catches for 112 yards at Notre Dame (with a 7-yard TD). He led USC with 6 catches for 43 yards at Washington. He added 4 grabs for 43 yards (including a 13-yard TD) against Washington State, plus he completed a scrambling 23-yard pass and had 2 runs for 9 yards (on backwards passes). At Arizona, he had 11 catches for 157 yards and 3 TDs (15, 22 and 26 yards)-all game bests-while setting the USC career record for touchdown receptions. He had 11 catches for 181 yards with 2 TDs (21 and 4 yards)-all in the first half-against UCLA. Against Oregon State, he had 7 catches for 59 yards and 2 TDs (a 14-yarder and then a spectacular one-handed, Frisbee-like 9-yard catch) and he also blocked a field goal. Against Michigan in the Rose Bowl, he had 8 catches for 88 yards and threw a 15-yard TD pass off a reverse.
2002: It's an understatement to say that Williams made a huge impact as a freshman wide receiver in 2002, his first year at USC. He was perhaps the top freshman receiver in the country. Overall in 2002 while appearing in all 13 games (he started against Washington and Oregon), he caught a team-high 81 passes for 1,265 yards (15.6 avg.) with 14 TDs, plus he was 1-of-1 passing for 19 yards, ran for 9 yards on 2 carries (4.5 avg.) and had a tackle, forced fumble and fumble recovery. He was named to the 2002 The Sporting News Freshman All-American first team, Scripps/Football Writers Freshman All-American first team, Rivals.com Freshman All-American first team and was the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. He was 16th nationally in receiving yards (97.3, fifth in Pac-10) and 20th in receptions (6.2, third in Pac-10). His 14 TD catches was second most in the nation. His 81 catches in 2002 are third on the USC season list. He had 5 100-yard receiving games in 2002 (including a stretch of 4 in a row-the most at USC since Keyshawn Johnson had 12 in a row in 1994 and 1995). He caught a TD pass in 7 consecutive games. His 14 TD receptions tied the USC season record first set by Johnnie Morton in 1994. His 3 TD receptions against Washington in 2002 tied a USC game record and his 13 catches at Oregon was a USC freshman mark. He owns the NCAA, Pac-10 and USC freshman season records for receiving yards (1,265) and TD catches (14, sharing the NCAA mark with Florida's Jabar Gaffney in 2000) and the Pac-10 and USC frosh mark for catches (81). He made the 2002 CNNSI.com All-American honorable mention, plus All-Pac-10 second team and The Sporting News Freshman All-Pac-10 first team, as well as The Sporting News All-Pac-10 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year. Against Auburn, Williams made his Trojan debut by catching 4 passes for 56 yards off the bench. He had a game-high 7 grabs for 90 yards at Colorado. He had an 11-yard catch at Kansas State, then caught 4 passes for 62 yards, including a pair of TDs (11 and 16 yards), against Oregon State. He caught 6 passes for 112 yards at Washington State, including a 55-yard TD bomb in which he outjumped the defender, then had 6 receptions for 103 yards with a 21-yard TD against California. Against Washington, he not only tied a USC game record with his 3 TD grabs, but his 9 catches in the game equaled Kareem Kelly's USC freshman mark and his 159 receiving yards-a then-career high-was his third consecutive 100-yard performance (the most by a Trojan since Keyshawn Johnson had 12 in a row in 1994 and 1995. At Oregon, he had another huge game with 13 receptions (a USC freshman record) for 226 yards (both career bests) and 2 TDs (35 and 16 yards)-his fourth consecutive 100-yard game and fifth game in a row with a TD grab. He caught 8 passes for 94 yards (with an 8-yard TD) at Stanford while setting the Pac-10 freshman season record for receptions. He added an 18-yard TD grab (he also completed a 19-yard pass to Colbert) against Arizona State. At UCLA, he had a game-high 6 catches for 66 yards. He had 10 catches for 169 yards (both game highs) with 2 TDs (6 and 19 yards) against Notre Dame. Against Iowa in the Orange Bowl, he had 6 catches for a game-high 99 yards (with an 18-yard TD grab) to set the NCAA freshman season marks for receptions, receiving yards and TD catches.
HIGH SCHOOL: His 2001 honors included Tom Lemming All-American, Super Prep All-Dixie, Prep Star All-Southeast Region, St. Petersburg Times All-Suncoast second team and Tampa Tribune All-Hillsborough County first team as a senior wide receiver at Plant High in Tampa (Fla.). He had 38 receptions for 789 yards (20.8 avg.) with 12 TDs in 2001. As a junior in 2000, he made the All-State Class 4A second team while catching 35 passes for 803 yards (22.9 avg.) with 12 scores. He had 28 catches for 631 yards (22.5 avg.) as a 1999 sophomore. He also played basketball at Plant, averaging 16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists in 2002 and, as a junior in 2001, earning Tampa Tribune All-Hillsborough County first team laurels as he averaged 14.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.3 assists while helping his team to the state semifinals.
MIKE WILLIAMS ON:
His uniform number (No. 1): "I wear No. 1 because I like everything that comes with the number. Not in an arrogant kind of way but people naturally expect more from people who wear that number. That person must be dependable and accountable and also is expected to be a leader. I wore it in high school and when I got to USC, the number was available. I thought I would try to fit the persona of 'No. 1' here and do some great things for the school."
What gives him the most pleasure in football: "The greatest feeling I get from all these touchdowns and these catches and everything is when I to go home after games and my phone has 10 or 15 voice messages from family and friends. That's what it's about. It's not about all this glory or this hype. That's all good for a scrapbook, but what's really important to me are the people who are proud of me for what I did and the people who were always there for me."
WHAT OTHERS SAY:
USC head coach Pete Carroll: "Mike is just so physical. He's bigger than the other guys and there is speed and talent to go along with that size."
Steve Bisheff, Orange County Register: "Williams...is the best college football player I've seen in several years...He is a 6-foot-5, 230-pound leaping, twisting freak of nature. If he is not as fast as Randy Moss, he is bigger and stronger. He has soft, Marvin Harrison-like hands and runs like a halfback after the catch. Williams is Terrell Owens without the attitude or the silly end zone gyrations...This guy is a football player, not just a pass catcher...He makes every opposing defense alter its scheme...Most longtime USC observers will tell you he already is the finest receiver in Trojans history...In less than a season and a half, Williams established himself as the finest all-around receiver USC has put on a football field. He is faster than Keyshawn Johnson, bigger and stronger than Lynn Swann and a more complete package than Hal Bedsole...It was Willliams' presence as a go-to receiver that had much to do with teammate Carson Palmer running away with the Heisman in 2002...Williams was Palmer's 6-5 security blanket. And if you don't believe it, ask Carson. He'll tell you. In 2003, Williams served in the same role for Matt Leinart...Nobody since Bedsole, who was a jumbo-sized, All-American receiver on John McKay's first national championship team in 1962, has broken more tackles after catching the ball than Williams."
USC quarterback Matt Leinart: "He's a great, great player. Big, fast, all the things. He makes big-time, big-time plays. He's such a natural, he phenomenal. He's confident. You know he's good, he knows he's good. He's got a real presence about him."
Former USC Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer: "Mike is a tremendous talent. He's real mature. He's the type of guy who makes quarterbacks look real good. I know that all I had to do was put it up there and he was going to go get it."
Dan Pompei, The Sporting News: "Mike Williams is a very special player...What makes Williams unique is he has a power forward's body but can make plays like a point guard. His hands are exceptional. There really isn't anyone like him in the NFL. Never has been. He will be a physical mismatch for every defender he plays against. He will make catches when he is covered. He will be an extraordinary weapon in the red zone and a playmaker over the middle....Because he can adjust to the throw and catch the ball away from his body, the window he provides a quarterback to throw to is closer to the size of a glass partition."
Mike Ventre, MSNBC.com: "Williams' numbers are sick, twisted and perverse-if you're looking at it from the opponents' perspective. From a USC standpoint, they are wonderful, marvelous, extraordinary...And these days there are more defenders around him than there are bodyguards around Kobe Bryant...Some longtime USC observers think Williams may be the best wide receiver ever at the school, because of his unique amalgam of gifts. He is big, fast, smart, sure-handed, runs exact routes and is intensely competitive. Perhaps his value can best be summed up with one play that the Trojans run regularly, in which the quarterback drops back, fires a line drive laterally to Williams at his wide receiver spot, and Williams proceeds to deke, dodge, fake, fool, squeeze by and knock over anyone in his path. Unlike others at his position, Williams can turn nothing into something with the consistency of a power running back."
Jim Rhode, Los Angeles Times: "Mike Williams is college football's best receiver...Williams does it all. He catches balls long, short and in between, working the sideline and over the middle as well. He hauls in seemingly unreachable passes like Go-Go Gadget, drags defenders around like Ben-Hur, serves as a defender magnet so others can steal away against single coverage and provides a security blanket for Leinart."
Arizona State cornerback R.J. Oliver: "Not only would I pick Mike Williams over anyone else now, but I think he's the best wide receiver in college football in a long time."
California defensive coordinator Bob Gregory: "He causes huge, major problems...It's not like you can just tell a corner to go and cover him. Because of how big he is, you can't do much on him one-on-one. And if you put another guy on him, your run defense suffers because you take a guy out of the box."
Notre Dame defensive coordinator Kent Baer: "He's got deceptive speed. He's a long-strider and you don't realize he's faster than most receivers...The only thing that jumps out how to defend him is to try to keep two guys on him. But is there anything physically we can do? Not really."
Kyle Veltrop, The Sporting News: "Someone his size shouldn't have that burst, which is why he is like Terrell Owens."
Former USC wide receiver Keary Colbert: "He's so big, a lot of people don't realize how much quickness he has. He is big, but he also has the ability to separate from the defense on his routes...People just think that because he's big, he's going to muscle. But he does things a little guy does."
Michigan defensive back Marin Jackson: "He has great hands, he runs great routes and goes up and gets the ball at the highest point. He's a big receiver so he shields you very well."
Former UCLA defensive end Mat Ball: "Williams just diced us up. That dude is Terrell Owens."