Zion Williamson would be a first-round pick in the NFL


While Eric Mateos was scrolling through his Twitter diary one afternoon, a striking video caught his eye.

A high school basketball player with the sculpted physique of a Marvel superhero flew off to catch up in traffic jams, skilfully led fastbreaks and threw alley-oop slams down the face at eye level.

<p class = "canvas-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "Zion Williamson& nbsp; had already established itself as & nbsp;a five-star basketball rookie and a future NBA lottery pick& nbsp; in the fall of 2016, but Mateos wondered if this 16-year-old could have an even brighter future in a different sport. The LSU tight sleeve coach thought that Williamson's extraordinary mix of size, agility and explosiveness would translate perfectly into football, whether it was a tight end for Rob Gronkowski or a pass for Julius Peppers-esque. "Data-reactid =" 15 ">Zion Williamson had already established himself as a five-star basketball rookie and future NBA lottery pick in the fall of 2016, but Mateos asked if the 16-year-old might have an even more promising future in another sport. The LSU tight sleeve coach thought that Williamson's extraordinary mix of size, agility and explosiveness would translate perfectly into football, whether it was a tight end for Rob Gronkowski or a heck for Julius Peppers.

It did not bother Mateos that Williamson had never played football in high school, nor that the tiny private school in South Carolina he attended did not form a team. Mateos searched for Williamson's phone number, texted him for interest in college football, and informed him that a scholarship would be waiting for LSU if he decided to try his luck in the sport.

"I just hit my shot, if you want," said Mateos, now coach of BYU's offensive line. "When you are a Division I football coach, you have the obligation to look for the best players possible. Obviously, it did not interest him, but I would not have done the best job possible if I had not tried at least. "

Mateos can rest assured that he is not the only football coach to have tried to convince Williamson to swap his highs for crampons. This 6-foot-7, 285-pound basketball phenomenon has armed a surprising number of football coaches bold enough to suggest that his sporting talents could be best used to ward off offensive attacks or display smaller defensive backs. .

Could Zion Williamson have been part of the NFL if he chose football instead of basketball? (Illustration by Amber Matsumoto / Yahoo Sports)


While Williamson was gaining prominence in basketball circles after a considerable growth spurt at the age of 14 and 15, Spartanburg County High School football coaches showed interest in transferring in their schools and practice a second sport. Some prominent college football coaches eventually learned the viral sensation and the extensive scholarship offerings, believing that there was only little inconvenience to attracting a Williamson athlete.

<p class = "web-atom canvas-text Mb (1.0em) Mb (0) – sm Mt (0.8em) – sm" type = "text" content = "The timing of these sales pitches was the main obstacle to At a time when football coaches were showing interest, Williamson was already on track to blossom and become the first presumptive choice for the NBA's 2019 project, & nbsp;amassing an Instagram after 2.6 million people& nbsp; and become the rare university athlete identified by his or her first name. "data-reactid =" 40 "> The timing of these sales pitches was the biggest obstacle to Williamson's distraction, and by the time football coaches showed interest, Williamson was already on the right track to become the first presumptive choice. writing the NBA in 2019, accumulating an Instagram account as a result of 2.6 million people and becoming the only university athlete identifiable by his first name.

"We had never thought that he would be interested, but we figured why not try our luck in the dark?" Said the director of recruiting one of the programs most rich in college football.

"Who would not want to put this guy on defense or as an opponent in a red zone attack? He's explosive, powerful, he can change direction and he has incredible body control. Honestly, I think if he entered the NFL draft this year, a team will write it in the first round based solely on the potential. "

The quality of a Williamson football player may well be one of the big questions of the sport that remains unanswered. The Duke star, who is expected to return to the field on Thursday after a knee injury caused by a knee injury, is now less likely to take the risk of embarking on a new sport. NBA teams are finding creative ways to lose games to improve their chances of choosing them, and shoe companies are preparing to raise millions of dollars to sign an endorsement contract.

Unless there is an unlikely change of heart, the potential of Williamson's football will always remain a mystery. The NFL's talented evaluators can not guess the footballer's caliber that he might be by studying his basketball highlights, examining his measurable elements and examining how other basketball players have managed the transition to the network. .

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"He has a prototype NFL corps," said Mike Lombardi, former NFL staff and staff officer. "He has long arms, soft hands, good speed and power in the lower part of his body, which is all you want.

"Skill and maneuvering, I'm sure he'll be in control very quickly, but what could take more time is the physical nature of football and the repeated strikes." I'm sure he has a certain degree of toughness, but it's one thing to be tough on basketball, it's different from being physically and mentally strong for football. "

Some say Zion Williamson would be a first-round pick in the NFL draft although he does not play college football. (Getty Images)


Past experience suggests that potential attackers can learn to resist contact and flourish while the NFL ends after an intensive course on how to play the job. Some NFL teams have turned to college basketball after the success of Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas, both of whom have played in the Pro Bowl.

The Indianapolis Colts have recently made avatars on Mo-Alie Cox (VCU) and Erik Swoope (Miami), although they had almost never played organized football. The Dallas Cowboys picked Rico Gathers (Baylor) in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL draft, even though he played football for the last time in college.

The advantage of Williamson over such players is that he is an athlete from another world. His 45-inch vertical jump would have not only ranked No. 1 among NFL prospects in last week's draft, but he was also at least five inches higher than defensive linemen, defenders of passes and tight ends.

During an appearance at SiriusXM's Mike Krzyzewski radio show last month, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney joked that the defending university football champions would hold a scholarship for Williamson next season.

"I would put it narrow or wide or [defensive] Swinney said, "We could even put him to the quarterback."

Suggested a chuckle Krzyzewski, "You would run the Wildcat."

Swinney replied, "Put in the Wildcat, no doubt."

Thank the fabulous genetics of Williamson's unfathomable explosiveness to his size. His mother, Sharonda Sampson, was a sprinter at Division II Livingstone College. Lateef Williamson, his biological father, was a 6-foot-4, 270-pound defensive player. He signed with the state of North Carolina in 1993 after also attracting interest from the likes of South Carolina and Penn State.

While academic problems have pushed Williamson to join Livingstone College without hurting Wolfpack, former NC State State football coach Mike O'Cain still remembers Lateef a quarter of a century later. O'Cain describes him as "an excellent athlete who could really run and could potentially be a smuggler.

"He probably could have been as good a defensive lineman as our team at the time," O'Cain said. "It's hard to find defensive linemen who can run but are big enough and physically fit to play. When you recruit one and it does not work, you remember those guys.

After the separation of Sampson and Lateef when their son was only a few years old, Williamson's mother married Lee Anderson, a former Clemson basketball player. It was Anderson who coached Williamson into the young players' basketball teams and took him to the park to practice more shooting or dribbling before classes started or after his homework.

Williamson had a modest 5-foot-10 grade in eighth grade, but a steep growth spurt and athletic boost over the next two years paved the way for a dizzying ascent. Suddenly, Williamson could make the ordinary impression of performing dazzling feats, from throwing YouTube-worthy dunks during basketball games, to running home when practicing strikes at home. baseball or throw a mini football in the space while playing with his friends.

One morning in August 2017, Williamson and his high school teammates worked at Wofford College at the same time as the Carolina Panthers were running a training camp. Spartanburg Day School coach Lee Sartor recalls that Carolina coach Ron Rivera approached Williamson after noting that he was bigger than many linebackers and defensive linemen Panthers.

"He asked Sion:" Have you ever considered playing football? Sartor said, "Sion just gave him that big smile.

"I do not think Zion really saw himself as a football player, he probably could have been a great baseball player, a sprinter, a footballer or a swimmer, but basketball was his passion. he wanted to do.

Of course, that did not stop football coaches from nearby schools salivating what Williamson could do with a helmet and crampons.

Spartanburg High School football coach Chris Miller spent two weeks seeing Williamson during his senior season and was impressed every time.

"With his drive and strength, I have the impression that he could have been a dominant player in football, just like in basketball," Miller said.

Wofford defenseman Rob Greene had a similar reaction 13 months ago after Williamson had 37 points in a playoff game in the Terriers gymnasium.

"There are not many guys with his combination of size, speed and athleticism," Greene said, "and most of them are NFL first-round forwards."

Mateos, the former LSU coach, does not regret having offered a football scholarship to Williamson and urging him to pursue a second sport. Williamson's rise to the top of the NBA's selection committees only reinforced his conviction.

"I was trying to find tight ends as I could all over the country," said Mateos. "Zion had athleticism and physical stature to be one of the best."

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