Willie Williams, Steelers Cornerback, 1993-1996, 2004-2005
Willie Williams :
First, can you let readers know about your training business – who you train and how.
My company, XPRO Training Consultants provides speed, agility, endurance and skill development training for middle and high school athletes in all sports. Our major sports are lacrosse, football and track & field. We are starting to get college athletes as well through word of mouth.
How did you get started in this business?
It all started when my oldest son, Dominique, who is currently a junior in high school, wanted to play football at the age of eight. I said ok, we have to get you in shape. I took him out to the track and put him through some interval training and speed drills. The next day he invited some of his teammates. The amount of kids grew at every session and I’ve been going at it ever since. I didn’t officially launch my business to the public until January 2009.
What coaching lessons helped shape the way you train these athletes – and what coaches helped shape the way you approach the way you teach these athletes?
I’ve learned how to develop good work ethic to give myself an opportunity to be better than my opponent. That in itself taught me that you may not win every time so when you do lose, learn how to take constructive criticism and turn your mistakes into positives.
The coaches who helped shape me into the person I am today as far as training these athletes, were my high school coach Jerry Brown, college coach Tim Beckman, who is now the head coach at Toledo, and of course the greats Dick LeBeau and Bill Cowher.
Who mentored you in your initial years as a Steeler – what players and coaches – and how did they do so?
Dick LeBeau mentored me my first couple of years as my defensive backs coach before he became the defensive coordinator. Coach LeBeau taught me how to play with confidence, something that I was lacking a little my first two years as a pro.
There were quite a few players that took me under their wing: Rod Woodson , Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake, and Darren Perry. This group of guys taught me how to approach the game and how to perform as a professional. For example, they taught me how to watch film on our opponents, they mentored me on how to approach the off-season workouts and most importantly, they taught me how to play the game mentally.
How did it feel to be the veteran years later, training the new Steelers? Who did you help mentor as a veteran – and how?
It felt great to be a veteran because I knew the younger guys would be watching. I felt I could show through my actions and performance what it took to be a great player. I think Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden were the guys I mentored. I knew these two guys were going to be great players in the league one day. The main thing they may have learned from me is how to practice. I was a person that was big on the saying “You play like you practice”. They saw how I approached the game mentally in the film room as well.
The veterans on those Steelers teams seem so unconcerned about job security as they coach up the younger players. Is this the same on most teams? Why is it so successful in Pittsburgh?
This is a question that may be tough for me to answer. I think it is so successful in Pittsburgh because there’s a standard you have to uphold as a Steeler. It goes back to the steel curtain days. Whether you were a backup, you have to be ready to play. Also, I think playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers is a privilege because what was set by the guys back in the 70’s. The Steelers are such a oriented, solid and caring organization, it makes you play hard, because you really feel a part of something good.
How tough was Coach Cowher on his players? Was he tougher on the veterans or rookies – who did he push hardest and why?
Coach Cowher was a coach that demanded the best out of his players especially the veterans. He wanted the veterans to lead the way for the rookies because eventually they may have to step up and play their rookie year. The veterans had to set the tone every week. If you couldn’t handle it, you had to move on.
How did you prove yourself as a rookie – and were you ever “hazed’ (if so, how?)
I proved myself as a rookie by practicing hard everyday. I felt that being a 6th round draft pick and being told I was too small put a big chip on my shoulder. I took it personally. That drove me to prove myself everyday. As far as the hazing, I just had to sing at lunch time. That was awful!
What do you think of today’s pass-happy NFL. Would it be more or less fun to play today as a cornerback, and why?
As a defensive back, I hate it because it exposes the weakness in the defense. It would be less fun to play against because it limits what you can do on defense. A team may not have six defensive backs that can cover in their nickel and dime packages but the key is to have four down linemen that can get to the QB.
How does having a great safety like Polamalu affect the way you play cornerback – and who were some of the best safeties you played with, and what made them so?
Having someone like Troy in the secondary will allow a corner to be more aggressive on the routes because you know if Troy is on a blitz he will get there or even in a cover 2 he will be over top. I had that opportunity to play with Troy my last two years of my career and he’s by far one of the best safeties that ever played the game, in my opinion.
Troy Polamalu reminds me of Carnell Lake. He plays with aggressiveness, speed and with covering ability, just like Carnell did.
Any last thoughts for readers?
Yes, I would like for all the Steeler fans out there to join School of the Legends (SOTL), a true football fan site that will connect them to all the legends that played the game. I’ve been chosen as the former player correspondent for the Steelers this year so go to the web site and join. www.schoolofthelegends.com/teams/football/steelers This site allows them to chat with me every game this year as the Steelers are playing, with game time analysis and comments. Cam Heyward is the current player correspondent for the Steelers on SOTL as well..