He could have let it go to voicemail. But Deonte Williams is the kind of football player that picks up calls from unfamiliar numbers.
Curiosity, it can be hard to suppress.
On the other end was Ron McBride, a former 12-year head coach of the Utah Utes — not your typical telemarketer.
“He told me who he was and explained everything,” said Williams, who just wrapped up his senior season at Cal Poly this past fall.
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Now retired, McBride became a fan of Williams when the coach was in the middle of a seven-year-stint at Weber State and Williams was the Big Sky Conference Newcomer of the Year as a freshman for Northern Arizona in 2008.
Williams’ 1,506 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns for the Mustangs last season only confirmed that first impression, and McBride was calling to offer the Cal Poly running back a spot in Friday’s second-annual Casino Del Sol College All-Star Game.
Given an opportunity afforded only a few players from FCS programs, Williams happily accepted and is in Tucson, Ariz., this week practicing in front of dozens of coaches and scouts representing professional teams from both the NFL and CFL.
Though most of the rosters are made up of players from high- and mid-major FBS programs, the FCS and Division II ranks are also represented. Two players from Japan are playing alongside Williams on the West team, which also includes former Notre Dame and Kansas quarterback Dane Crist, the highest profile player in the game.
“It feels good to be here, to play here,” said Williams, who signed with a sports agent and left Cal Poly after the season to focus on training for the NFL Draft. “They’re good athletes in general. It feels good to be playing against good talent. I feel like it’s home for me. I’m a competitor, and I feel like every day in practice I’m turning some heads.”
In practice is when Williams has to do it. Though the East-West game will be streamed live on ESPN3.com on Friday at 6 p.m., Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh said he expects most scouts will not stick around for that exhibition.
Team representatives mostly want to see how Williams performs running practice drills in their presence. Though Walsh said nearly every NFL team sent scouts to the Mustangs’ practices this season to evaluate Williams and senior linebacker Kennith Jackson, they only saw those players in an atmosphere where physicality was toned down to prevent injuries.
“Our practices aren’t very physical, but he does play physical,” Walsh said. “I think they’re going to find out he’s an extremely physical runner, and he probably catches the ball better than they realize.
“His speed is going to be the other deal. For Deonte it’s going to get down to what the can run” in the 40-yard dash, Walsh added. “He’s a good enough football player. They’re going to have to decide whether he’s fast enough.”
Williams said by late Tuesday he had interviewed with representatives from six NFL teams. He hasn’t run a 40-yard dash and likely will not until his pro day. Cal Poly is working on scheduling one for April.
Since Williams hurt his foot and was not timed in the 40 on the Mustangs’ junior scouting day last season, there is no frame of reference for how he’ll do in the speed drill this offseason. If he can run safely in the 4.4 range, that will help him get an opportunity to be in an NFL training camp this summer.
Walsh said Williams is being projected as a late-round pick. It’s possible both he and Jackson could also wind up as undrafted free agents.
After the game, Williams will have a short stopover in his hometown of Sacramento before relocating to San Diego to train alongside West teammate and fellow running back Isi Sofele of Cal, concentrating on improving his sprinting.
“From what the scouts are telling me, that’s the main thing,” Williams said, “just run a good 40.”