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pakowitz 05-05-2003 11:40 AM

K-State's Williams hopes career continues with Saints

The Kansas City Star

Melvin Williams got an eyeful of the Cadillac Escalade that Terence Newman used to wheel around K-State's campus before Newman was chosen as the fifth pick overall by Dallas in the NFL draft.

"I wouldn't mind the opportunity," Williams said, "to buy a new car."

Williams -- a defensive end from Kansas State -- drives a 1997 burgundy Dodge Stratus with nearly 100,000 miles on it. He, his wife, Beth, and their two young children live on government aid. Food stamps.

And hope.

"It's a long, hard road I've traveled," Williams said this week. "I've prayed a lot. I can't count how many times I've counted my blessings."

The New Orleans Saints provided that opportunity. Thursday, Williams arrived in New Orleans for the Saints' minicamp. Williams, an honorable-mention All-Big 12 defensive end, was a fifth-round pick by New Orleans during the draft. Overall, Williams (6 feet 3, 270 pounds) was the 155th player selected.

Not bad for a guy who five months ago had to wonder whether his career was over.

Williams, 24, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on the next-to-last play of the Wildcats' 34-27 victory over Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl in San Diego.

"It gave out. Just popped," Williams said of his knee. "Everything rushed through my mind you would expect. How was I going to take care of my family? Could I play again? My heart just dropped."

The end to Williams' career at K-State wasn't much different from other difficult stages throughout.

After a standout career at Mehlville High School in St. Louis, Williams weighed an offer from Missouri to be a two-sport athlete. He was one of the top basketball players in the state, and MU gave him the option to play both sports. But his brother, Turelle, was a linebacker at K-State. Melvin decided to join him.

Williams failed to qualify academically and instead of staying at K-State in the fall of '97, he returned home and worked on a loading dock. Williams returned to K-State and redshirted in the fall of 1998.

Just when it looked as if Williams were poised for a breakthrough, he suffered a broken bone in his left foot in the Big 12 Conference opener at Oklahoma in 2001.

Williams recorded a career-high 37 tackles and 71/2 sacks last season. He heard through the grapevine that he might be as high as a second-round draft choice.

Then came the knee injury. Williams had surgery Jan. 9.

There was no NFL combine for Williams because of the surgery. The only visit he took to an NFL city was to New Orleans. The Saints stuck by his side.

"I'm pleased somebody else recognized what we've known for a long time -- that he is capable of being successful in the NFL," K-State coach Bill Snyder said.

Saints coach Jim Haslett compared Williams to Williams' former K-State teammate Darren Howard, a Saint defensive end.

"When you look at him, you're going to think you're looking at (Howard)," Haslett said. "The way he plays, his athleticism. Maybe a little more athletic, but not as big.

"The doctors gave us clearance, saying that he could be ready by July, maybe August. It's not an immediate need. We thought he could be a guy for the future."

Whether Williams played again or not wasn't a matter of life and death. He had already received his degree in sociology, so pro football wasn't his last resort. Williams, though, feels he still has plenty left to prove. To himself. And the Saints.

"I just wanted to come back from the injury so I could walk and play with my children," Williams said. "I have done that. Now my goal is to make the Saints. I want that bad.

"For all I've been through, I'm so thankful to get this chance."

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