After enduring an unexpectedly long wait by the telephone this weekend, former Gophers defensive end Lamanzer Williams was rewarded with one of the happiest phone calls of his life Sunday afternoon.
The Jacksonville Jaguars picked Williams in the sixth round (179th overall) of the NFL draft. It was a few rounds and maybe a day later than he anticipated, but that didn’t make his selection any less gratifying.
“It’s been a long, surprising wait, but I’m satisfied,” Williams said from his home in Ypsilanti, Mich. “I’m really happy.”
Another former Gopher, wide receiver Ryan Thelwell, was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh and final round (215th overall). Thelwell didn’t play for Minnesota in 1997 because of an academic suspension. His selection was somewhat of a surprise because of his age (25), his mediocre speed for a receiver, and his lack of competition last season. Thelwell could not be reached for comment.
Two other Gophers prospects, quarterback Cory Sauter and wide receiver/return man Tutu Atwell, were not drafted.
Sauter decided to sign with the Arizona Cardinals as a free agent Sunday evening. He said several teams were interested in him, including the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Oilers.
The Cardinals only have two quarterbacks on their roster — starter Jake Plummer and Stoney Case. Sauter said they are looking to sign one other veteran free agent at that position.
Williams’ status was in limbo until he got a series of phone calls from the Jaguars, the first of which came from defensive line coach John Pease.
“The first thing (Pease) said when he called me this morning was, Are you hanging in there, big guy?'” Williams said. “Let me tell you this. Don’t worry about the round. The thing you should worry about it is going to a place where you’re going to play. You’re the only defensive end we’re drafting.'”
Williams will likely compete for playing time very quickly at defensive end in Jacksonville. Clyde Simmons, who led the team in sacks in 1997, was released in the off-season. Jeff Lageman has a one-year contract for 1998, after which he will probably retire. That leaves Joel Smeenge and Tony Brackens, who will be in his third NFL season, at end for the Jaguars. Williams said he believes he and Brackens could become imposing bookends on the Jaguars’ defensive line.
“A lot of people, if you get drafted in the sixth round, you don’t even know if you’re going to make the squad,” Williams said. “I feel like it’s as good as the first round, if you ask me.”
Williams said he thought his draft stock might have slipped because of the Gophers’ perennial mediocrity and that he only had one great year — 1997, when he amassed 18.5 sacks, which tied for best in the country, and was named first team All-American. Scouting reports have also questioned his speed (5.0 seconds in the 40-yard dash) and strength.
Now that the draft is over, however, Williams doesn’t have to worry about anything except football.
“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Williams said. “Warm weather, a playoff team and they play on grass. Those are all the things I hoped for and I just got blessed. It really doesn’t matter how long it took (to get drafted). It’ll probably take a few years to start making some big-time money, but hey, after whatever happened to me last year, all I could ask for was an opportunity.”