There are many different ways to measure Jesse Williams' toughness.
For starters, seeing him battle in the trenches of the SEC as a nose guard ranks pretty high on the tough-o-meter. Originally a defensive end in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme, Williams moved to the middle this spring, only to endure more pain as more bodies collided with him.
Then there is the plethora of tattoos that covers his body. His arms, neck, chest, legs and hands are drenched in ink, with his most popular one coming on one hand that reads: I stopped checking under my bed for monsters when I realized the monster was me.
There are also paragraphs from a high school coach’s speech written on his left forearm, which is just another impressive way he shows his tolerance for pain.
Or maybe you measure it by the way the 6-foot-4 320-pounder can shimmy his way into an airplane seat and ride for about 24 hours back to his native country of Australia. With the time difference, Williams, who gets back home to Brisbane only once a year and hasn’t spent Christmas there in three years, said he loses about two days flying across the globe.
“It’s a rough trip,” he said, “especially with my size.”
But the freshest way to measure Williams’ toughness is to watch him go from hobbled mess to lead blocking fullback for the Tide in Alabama’s SEC championship victory against Georgia on Dec. 1.
Williams suffered what looked like a rather nasty knee injury in the third quarter. He needed help getting off the field and eventually plopped down on the end of Alabama’s bench alone with a towel draped over his head.
But after his temporary departure, the senior sprang into action, helping running back Eddie Lacy punch in a 1-yard touchdown and later recording the last of his three tackles in the game.
Williams, who didn’t miss any practices or wear a black noncontact jersey, wasn’t trying to prove anything or play hero. He just wanted to play.
“Trying to get back on the field was the only thing,” Williams said. “I don’t try and stand out, I just look to do what I can to help.”
But he does stand out. From his exotic background and look to his ferocious play up front, Williams can’t help but gain attention. It helped him get noticed by the University of Hawaii while he was playing American football back home, and it helped him get even more attention after he decided to go the junior college route.
After two years at Arizona Western College, the former rugby and basketball standout had his pick of colleges. Now, he’s a win against Notre Dame in the Discover BCS National Championship from having his pick of ring designs … again.
This ring might mean even more to the laid-back bully in the middle. Last season, he was a rising star at defensive end, but when he made the move from end to tackle this spring, Williams realized he’d be racking up more bruises than plays. He expected more double-teams and less time on the stat sheet.
He was right. The technique took awhile to master, and so did his role. He was nicked up a little more and finished the regular season with 36 tackles, 2.5 for loss and one sack. Williams said it’s tougher playing nose guard, but he feels he’s showing more versatility and hopes that will help him win an NFL job.
Center Barrett Jones knows Williams will get his shot at creating an NFL future for himself. He has lined up opposite Williams just about every day since the start of spring practice, and he has noticed a total transformation in Williams' game as he continues to understand his position and how offenses plan for him each play.
“He leaves it all on the field, and we really got to a see a shade of just how tough those Australians are,” Jones said.
“When he gets those hands on you, it's hard to really body up on him because he’s got just such strong hands and he can just sling you and get off the ball fast and really get physical with you.”
Williams’ physical nature made him a Twitter sensation this summer after he bench-pressed 600 pounds. That sort of brute strength is not something Williams reserves only for the weight room, Jones said.
“It’s crazy how strong he is, and you can feel that strength on the football field,” he said.
The Internet publicity was nice, but Williams prefers to keep to himself. He doesn’t care to go into detail about his tattoos -- or his move from Australia to the States.
His focus is on the pigskin, and, right now, he’s looking to be as disruptive as possible against a Notre Dame front standing in his way of capturing a second national title in two years.
It’s been an interesting journey for the Aussie, but a win against the top-ranked Irish would be the perfect ending for such a unique career.
“It’s been a long trip, but it’s been a good one so far,” Williams said. “Hopefully, it can end with this last win and see where it goes from there.”