Sylvester Williams enjoys working on cars with his father, but he didn't want to spend his entire life making car parts in a factory.
So months after finishing high school, Williams decided to leave his factory job behind and continue his education in hopes of landing a better job.
Now, he's poised to start his dream job.
"It's way more fun than working in the factory, I'll tell you that," Williams said. "It's a blessing. I never thought I'd be here."
Williams made a name for himself as a hulking defensive tackle at the University of North Carolina the past two years, but he was a no-name in football circles coming out of high school. He wasn't on the radar of any college football programs, and football wasn't really even on his radar after he played just one season and started just one game at Jefferson City (Mo.) High School.
Graduating from high school marked a major accomplishment for Williams, who was twice kicked off the team – the basketball team – and once expelled from school for poor attendance. But he turned things around, and while fortunate to get a job making radiator parts for large trucks after high school, Williams decided he wanted more.
After seeing a former high school teammate playing football at Kansas University, he began to believe he could play on the college level and decided he wanted a college education - football or no football. He soon enrolled at Coffeyville Community College.
"I told myself, 'I don't want to be in this factory 20 years from now, looking back on my life being on just a straight path. I want my life to go uphill,' " Williams said. "It was a hard decision at the time because I didn't know if I'd make the team at Coffeyville and I was leaving a great job for me at the time.
"But I knew I wanted to do something great in my life, and that wasn't going to happen in that factory."
In the process of applying to junior college, Williams sent his limited game film to Coffeyville coach Darian Dulin, who understandably showed little initial interest. Williams, however, didn't give up, eventually earning a spot on the team at the small Kansas school and then gaining interest from several big-time colleges.
"I wasn't a good player at all, so he didn't really want anything to do with me, but I told him that I was going to attend the school anyway," Williams said. "The biggest thing for me was to get a degree, which I was able to do, and then football was a blessing.
"I looked at it as a challenge for me to take on. I left behind everything I had. It was all or nothing at that point, so I gave it all I had."
After Williams developed into a junior college standout, he accepted a scholarship offer from North Carolina. He further blossomed there, starting all 25 games over the past two seasons while racking up 90 tackles, including 20 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks. The 6-3, 315-pounder even intercepted a pass.
Now his climb continues, up draft boards. While working out for the draft in Phoenix, Hall of Fame defensive tackle Warren Sapp told Williams that he has a chance to be great.
"I can't predict the future, but I know my past, and I know where I don't want to be in life," Williams said. "I can't say where I'll end up in the future, but it's definitely going to be better than my past was. All I can do is continue to better myself every day in the sport of football and in life in general, and then hopefully someday God will bless me to do something great with my life."