Wiedmer: For Vols' Williams, the bigger the better

Wiedmer: For Vols' Williams, the bigger the better

August 1st, 2014 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Tennessee defensive lineman Jordan Williams (54) and his teammates try and pump up the crowd at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.

Tennessee defensive lineman Jordan Williams (54) and his...

Photo by Staff File Photo /Times Free Press.

KNOXVILLE - Just in case you needed another reminder of why life isn't fair, we use today's press ink and newsprint to focus on University of Tennessee senior defensive lineman Jordan Williams.

While most of the rest of us attempt in vain to count every cruel calorie, sweat to oldies at least once a month and ponder that timeless musical question -- to borrow from the brilliance of Paul Simon -- "Why I am soft in the middle now [when] the rest of my life is so hard?," Williams has been ordered to gain weight.

Lots of weight.

"I was 255 at the end of last season," the Gainesville, Fla., resident said during Thursday's media session. "I weigh 285 now. I've been told to eat everything I can get my hands on. It's a lot of eating and eating late at night."

For all you folks who hate yourselves for a single cup of ice cream after 10 p.m., it gets worse. Much worse.

"I eat five full meals a day," Williams continued. "I eat dinner around 8 [p.m.], then another meal at 10, 11 or 12. Then I go to sleep."

Oh, the inhumanity of it all.

But at least there's a tactical reason for coach Butch Jones wanting Williams to upgrade from minivan to school bus -- he's moving him from defensive end to defensive tackle. With linebacker Curt Maggitt moving to defensive end, Jones hopes his D-line can become exceedingly quick as a way to compensate for its overall lack of size against the rest of the brutal Southeastern Conference.

Or as Williams noted: "We're going to be a little undersized. Hopefully our strength and quickness will take care of that."

The last thing a fairly inexperienced Volunteers team across the board can afford is to be manhandled up front on either side of the ball.

"The SEC's played up front," said redshirt junior offensive lineman Mack Crowder. "If you don't have a good offensive and defensive line, you're not going to do very well."

To further that concern, Jones pointed out, "We are the only team in the country that has to replace both starting offensive and defensive lines."

And whether that's true or not, no one will be replacing more starters on both lines. The Vols have zero -- we repeat, ZERO -- starters returning up front on either side of the ball.

"I came back in January to start preparing for this season, looked around and said, 'Where are the old guys?'" Williams said. "Then I realized that we're the old guys now."

Old yet largely inexperienced. Throw in the fact that UT went 5-7 a year ago with much experience on both lines, and it's easy to see why many fear a fourth straight 5-7 season for the Big Orange, which has never lost as many as eight games in a single season.

Yet whatever happens, Jones believes Williams, who has started only eight games in his career, is worthy of weighty praise heading into today's first preseason practice.

"[Jordan] has played sparingly, [but] he has worked exceptionally hard. He has had a better offseason than any player in our program," the coach gushed. "He is a great spokesperson; he is leading; he has put the weight on that we have asked him to put on. He has had a very productive offseason: Now go take advantage of that, reward yourself."

Maggitt readily concurred, adding: "Jordan's always been a hard worker. On and off the field, he's always been a guy that wanted to get better. In the film room, he wanted to learn more. But what I've seen from him is that outward focus and him not just worrying about himself and him taking charge of the young guys and taking charge of the whole group, beating me out there on the field sometimes and telling everybody, 'Let's go.' That's what we need. We need more leadership, and Jordan's been doing a great job at it."

Including leading Maggitt to a few extra meals here and there.

"I cooked breakfast for him the other day," Williams said. "Ask Maggitt about my brown sugar bacon."

Maggitt: "Jordan can cook. Good stuff. We both like to eat and we're both trying to gain weight, so we have a good time hanging out together."

Just to be clear, brown sugar bacon isn't brown sugar cured bacon, which can be found in almost any grocery.

"It's a recipe I got from a friend's mother," Williams explained. "You put the bacon in the oven, sprinkle brown sugar on it, then let it caramelize. It's great."

Nor is bacon his only claim to fame.

"I cooked a pot roast the other day," he added.

Maggitt and Williams aren't the only Vols beefing up. Sophomore quarterback Josh Dobbs has gone from 203 to 216, all of it looking like well-chiseled muscle.

But Dobbs still appears super-model thin next to Williams, who admits he's happy to eat almost anything from anywhere to please Jones and the rest of the coaching staff.

When one reporter said he saw a guy who looked an awful lot like Williams hauling around a pizza on the back of a scooter earlier this summer, the player instantly admitted, "That was me."

He said he's also fond of Chipotle Mexican Grill, adding, "Sometimes I take an extra dinner home and warm it up late at night."

For most of us, it would be a dream come true. But after four straight losing seasons, UT fans might understandably ask of Williams' brown sugar bacon: Bacon, bacon. Sizzle, sizzle. But can it stop a fifth straight Big Orange fizzle?

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.