Whenever the NFL Draft rolls around, we’re reminded of one of the most thought-provoking stories ever produced by the annual ritual: the 2002 saga of Richard “Big Rich” Williams. A star offensive tackle at tiny Gardner-Webb University, Williams was such a muscular force that he played himself onto the pro scouts’ radar. After a strong showing at a post-season all-star game, he was projected to be a top-100 pick, a slot that would have guaranteed him a signing bonus in the neighborhood of $500,000, not to mention a lucrative multi-year contract. The future appeared golden.
And then, seemingly out-of-nowhere, Big Rich turned down the dream. He pulled his name out of the draft, electing to finish his degree and become a teacher rather than earn millions on the gridiron. A criminally hard-to-find Miami Herald article from 2003 quotes Williams on his reasons for switching gears:
“This could be kinda cool,” I thought to myself, driving to the airport. “Half the guys in America would kill to be in my shoes. But my excitement evaporated as soon as the flight attendant pointed out my seat. I’m 6-3 and weigh 340 pounds, yet the Miami Dolphins flew me on coach! I squeezed into the middle seat between an old man and a big woman. By the time I arrived, my stomach was growling. But nobody offered lunch. I bought crackers from a vending machine.
All day, I sat in my undershorts while doctors poked and probed me, and scheduled me for X-rays. When I produced a urine sample, they made some guy stand and watch to be sure I wasn’t manipulating them. At dinner that night, my steak tasted good. But I didn’t like the Dolphins’ cocky attitude. All they talked about was their team and how great they were. I just sat there, nodding my head. The Dolphins noticed because afterward, they told [agent] Brian [Parker] that I was “too quiet.” As soon as I got home, we talked about it.
“It’s like Sin City down there,” I said. “Anything goes. I don’t fit in.” That night, I lay awake with my head spinning. You hear about professional athletes snorting cocaine, beating up their wives and getting convicted of DWI, and these guys are complaining about me! As long as my football skills measured up, why should I have to change my personality?
So what’s Big Rich been up to since making his fateful decision? See the clip above. It’s taken from a demonstration by Team Impact, a youth ministry that employs feats of strength to win souls.
Personally, we would have gone for the NFL cash before dedicating our lives to showing off our ability to withstand nail beds. But we’re obviously made of weaker stuff than Big Rich.