Kasen Williams had it all planned out. The Washington native and Parade All-American was pegged as the number 2-ranked high school wide receiver by Scout.com in 2011, and he would stay in his home state by committing to the University of Washington. There, he would blossom into an elite college wideout, good enough to be taken in the first or second round of the NFL Draft. Everything was falling into place, as Kasen posted 868 receiving yards and six touchdowns in just his second season with the Huskies.
Then came Williams’ junior season. Eight games in, he suffered a serious foot injury and missed the remaining five games on the schedule. With his draft stock plummeting, he returned to the field as a senior to bring his name back to the forefront. That wouldn’t happen. The injury apparently robbed him of his athleticism, and Williams, who stands a daunting 6-foot-3 and weighs 217 pounds, caught just 20 passes all season for a paltry 189 yards.
Yet Williams’ NFL dream is still very much alive. He claims he is fully healthy.
We caught up with Williams as he trained for the NFL Combine at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California, and witnessed first-hand what he is doing to get people talking about him again.
STACK: Let’s talk about the injury. You had such a great early two years and then, bam! You never really recovered, even when you got back on the field for your senior season. What was that like?
Kasen Williams: I felt like it was an experience that was necessary for me to go through. I didn’t have a lot of adversity up to that point. I was never really injured or anything or had heavy off-the-field issues. But when that happened, I realized it happened for a reason. That was my thought process as soon as I heard I was going to be out all season.
I ended up dislocating my foot. It’s called a Lisfranc injury. Most Lisfranc injuries, you dislocate your fourth and fifth metatarsal. I dislocated all of mine and broke my fibula as well. It’s not really an injury you’re supposed to come back from. For me to come back and be 100 percent and make the plays that I did, even though it wasn’t a lot my senior year—when I got my opportunities, I felt like I took advantage of them. I just knew it was something for me to go through. A little adversity never hurt anyone. And they say your darkest days are right before the dawn.
What was rehab like? How hard was it to go through?
It was difficult. But one thing I learned was patience. If you continue to work every single day and see that small improvement, kind of like our testing here for your 40 or your vertical jump, and you see steady, little improvements, for me it was: I can move my ankle a little bit more, I can put a little bit more weight on it. Now I can jog. Now I’m sprinting. So stuff like that taught me to be patient, and that it is all going to come full circle.
Does it bother you that your draft stock slipped because of the injury?
It doesn’t bother me, but I do use it as motivation. One thing for me is, I’ve got to get my name back out there. Before the injury, I was seeing first and second round. Now, everything is later than that. I kind of lost a little bit of money. But for me, it’s motivation. I’ve just got to continue to work, show them I’m 100 percent healthy and can still make the plays I used to make. My peak is still coming. I haven’t even hit my peak yet, and that’s what I need to show them.
There’s video of you jumping over a defender a couple years back. Do you think you can get back to that level of athleticism again?
Definitely. I’m a believer that if I make my mind up to do something, then I can do whatever it is, as long as I stay consistent. I believe that I can jump higher than that. I believe that I haven’t reached my full potential as a player yet. As long as I keep working—and I feel like I’m in the right place at Proactive—the sky’s the limit for me.
What’s the most important part of the Combine for you?
Definitely the 40. Especially for me since I’m a bigger guy. If I can show them that I can still run a low 4.4 or 4.5, that’s showing them that even though I’m big I can run well.
Are you thinking about the Combine a lot?
I try not to think about it too much. I have my goals on what round I want to go, what pick, what I want to do at Pro Day as far as times and stuff. But I know I’m not going to get there unless I continue to win the day. And that’s what everything has fallen back to, is just seizing the moment and seizing the day. If you’re not winning today then your goals aren’t going to get met in the future.
How are you going to feel the morning of the Combine?
Calm. Obviously, you’re going to get the nerves. But as long as you stay calm and relaxed, those things don’t bother you. They don’t affect you. And the thing I’ve learned is, I play best when I’m relaxed. My goal is 4.47, and the only way I’m going to do that is if I stay relaxed. So even though the nerves will come, I have to disregard that and relax and stay focused.
How do you stay calm and focused?
I do a lot of meditating. I focus on my breathing and kind of get in my own little zone, my own little world. I focus on what I need to focus on. I visualize myself running a 4.4. If you can see yourself doing it in your mind, then your muscles have already been there. So once you do it in real life, you’ve already run it.
Who will immediately pop into your mind when your name gets called on draft day?
Washington coaches and my family. Family more than anything. And high school coaches as well, they were there from the start. The high school coaches helped me with my recruiting process and stayed in touch with me while I was there. There’s many people that were there for me when I got hurt.
When you’re riding high, you have a lot of people in your corner. But when you get hurt, your name starts to slip a little bit and you’re losing draft stock and not getting talked about as much. The people that are still talking with you and communicating with you and telling you that you can still be great, those are the people that are still in my corner and [who are] going to be with me on draft day.
Did it upset you when some people didn’t stay in your corner after the injury?
It’s natural. I expected it. I’m not going to get upset with them or hold any grudges, because you hear about it happening to people all the time. And it’s all good. They’re probably going to be back as soon as I get drafted and making a name for myself in the NFL. They’re going to be right back.
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