Connor Williams

Texas tackle Connor Williams is projected to be picked in the first round of the NFL draft this year. Hard to believe now, but Williams once had trouble getting picked to play at recess.

"The kids would play football every day, and they would choose teams," says Kathy Thedford, a longtime family friend and his third-grade teacher. "There would be times that Connor wasn't chosen or he might be chosen last, or he just wasn't able to play."

Williams experienced such exclusion often as a youngster. He didn't start talking until he was 4 because of a speech impediment, and his size made him an easy target for teasing, or worse, bullying.

"Just kids calling him fat," Thedford says. "He'd be at lunch in middle school. When you sit down at the table and there were only so many places, sometimes they have rules where you can't pull up extra chairs. You can only have the amount of chairs that are there at the table. For Connor to be kid that comes and sits down and then other kids come up and then all of the sudden, someone has to leave. Connor would be the one to have to leave."

Williams revealed the details of how he was bullied -- and how he ultimately became stronger for enduring it -- in an essay for

"And it wasn't just being overweight," Williams wrote. "I was naturally big for my age. Born two weeks early at 10 pounds, 5 ounces, I was always the biggest kid in class, which made me self-conscious because I didn't look like everyone else. I had a protruding stomach. I was a pumpkin.

"You made me feel like I wasn't somebody I wanted to be. Looking in the mirror, I wasn't proud of what I saw. I didn't like being fat.

"I remember putting a belt around my stomach and pulling it tight like a girdle. In middle school, I wore one of two outfits: a big, puffy Texas jacket that hid everything, or a football jersey with a shirt underneath. I wore them because I thought it made me look less fat."

Connor Williams And His Dad

Williams was in middle school when he got tired of waiting to "grow into his body" and told his dad he was ready to do something about it. His dad, Jimmy, bought a P90X home fitness system, and the two of them began working out together in the garage.

"Waking up every morning before school and doing it, and doing pullups, doing everything," Williams says. "Of course, with the pullups we had to start with the chair. I mean, both of us had to start with the chair 'cause we couldn't do full pullups, and then we eventually got it to where we were doing full pullups ourselves.

"And so we got to the point where I needed heavier weights and so that's when we started going to the YMCA. Every day. One day lifting, next day running, one day lifting, next day running."

Williams' transformation has been all the more impressive to those who saw him struggle when he was younger.
"He has such grit and perseverance," Thedford says. "I think those characteristics have served him well to get him through some of the adversity that he's been through. But just watching him, at times it's hard because it's sad to see someone you love go through hard things.

Kathy Thedford

"But then you're so proud of him when he does go through it, and when he does make all those great accomplishments. Watching him play football through all these years, that's been his place to shine. Watching him from a little kid play all the way through middle school and high school and college and now, I'm so proud of him. It's just amazing."

Thedford does remember one uplifting moment when Williams' physical prowess offered a glimpse of his future football glory.

"We won the tug-of-war because we had Connor," she says. "We wouldn't have won if we didn't have Connor. Tug-of-war, it's a big deal at field day. That's the final part of field day. I remember his little face, just digging in, pulling that rope with everything he had, and we won."

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