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No. 1 Pick Williams Arrives With A Plan

Jonah Williams and brother Jadon meet Bengals president Mike Brown.
Jonah Williams and brother Jadon meet Bengals president Mike Brown.

Katherine Williams, Jonah's mother, had seen this all before.

Shortly after Cincinnati had taken him with the 11th pick Thursday night, Bengals offensive line coach Jim Turner informed her son the rookie minicamp was the weekend of May 9-12 and there he was almost immediately uploading the dates.

"He's been in a hotel for two days," she said, "and he hasn't been able to work out. He's going crazy."

It's that analytic intensity that helped make Jonah Williams the No. 1 lineman in the draft, a natural product, really, of Katherine and husband Dane. They were both educated in the SEC, she as a social worker at Auburn and he as an environmental engineer at Georgia. As the van that whisked their family from the draft in Nashville neared looming Paul Brown Stadium in the middle of the Cincinnati skyline Friday afternoon, Katherine looked to her son as they sped down I-75.

"I saw his face brighten and he turned," she said. "He smiled at me and I thought, 'Thank you.'"

Naturally, Williams, like he does with his opponents, was already scoping it out.

"I knew from looking at the maps on my phone that the stadiums are right on the water, right in the city," Williams said. "I just hadn't seen the city yet, so I knew there was going to be a moment where it was going to pop up. I think we were all pretty amazed by the skyline. We were all talking about it in the car. It was kind of overwhelming, because I feel like this team represents the city, and this city really loves its team. This is an awesome community and culture, so to literally be driving into it, it feels like a really nice welcome."

Even though the Williams' middle child (Sierra, 23 and Jadon, 11) had never been to Cincinnati, it had the feel of a homecoming. When Bengals president Mike Brown introduced the family around the draft room, he mentioned Katherine spelled her name like his mother and his daughter, his executive vice president.

"Very warm, very welcoming," Katherine Williams said. And being a devout Auburn fan, she pointed out pass rusher Carl Lawson coming over to congratulate Jonah in the locker room. And when she heard that the Bengals' all-time right tackle Willie Anderson had been praising the pick, her ears perked up.

"Oh yes," she said when asked if she remembered Anderson playing for the Tigers. "He was there after me, but of course I remember."

Jonah Williams takes his first stroll at The Paul.
Jonah Williams takes his first stroll at The Paul.

How grads from Auburn and Georgia could let their blue-chip recruit son defect to hated Bama is well explained.

"When it comes down to what's best for your son, there's never a question," Dane said.

But he did appreciate the endorsement from an Auburn great.

"An expert," he said.

But his son sounded like the expert with the most impressive first round news conference since, well, last year's version with Ohio State center Billy Price. That noise is the sound of the offensive line emerging as the foundation of new head coach Zac Taylor's culture in not only the locker room, but the AFC North. Note: Williams was scheduled to dine Friday night with Price and quarterback Andy Dalton and their significant others.

"Coach Taylor coming from that Rams offense, which has been so prolific," said Williams of what he likes about the culture. "And his forward thinking, the way he's able to (help) players make plays, to get people open in space, to utilize their talents, to exploit the defense — that's something that's unique to him. (Offensive line) coach (Jim) Turner (too), and what he was able to do at (Texas) A&M, having coached in the SEC West. There are philosophical similarities that we have. Also, it's exciting to be on the ground floor with a new (coaching) staff. Being a rookie with a new staff, it feels like we're all on the ground floor. So, just buying into this, and seeing where it takes us."

This is where he wants it to go:

"What goes through my head — just imposing my will and making people quit," Williams said. "That's something you can see, and that's what I love about this game. You keep doing your job over and over again, you keep your opponent from doing their job, and you just start to see their face change, body language change, and things like that. That's really rewarding to me, both personally and with the whole offensive line, to make the other team quit."

One other person who came along in that van ride knows Williams isn't going to quit. Meggi Hetzel, his girlfriend, is an on-air personality for 'Bama's web site as well as for the SEC. They didn't start dating until after the season to avoid the conflict. But that went out the window when she had to interview him at his pro day.

Check out photos of Cincinnati's 2019 first-round draft pick Jonah Williams on his first day at Paul Brown Stadium.

She went with a semi-hard ball question.

"It was like, now that this is all done, and the only thing left is the draft, where do you go from here? What's left? What do you have to do?" Hetzel recalled. "And he said, there's only one thing to do and you just have to keep working."

It was the analytic side, though, that first attracted her.

"He was always friendly, always smiling," Hetzel said. "And he would always answer the questions and take time to help me understand things that were happening on the field. They talk about him being a 1 character guy and it's true. Everyone in Alabama loves him."

He's already making friends in the city just over the hill on I-75. Especially in the equipment room, where managers Adam Knollman and Sam Staley unfurled No. 73 for him. Even though he wears it because he admired the work of former Browns perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. It was, after all, his college number. But, it turns out Williams would have taken anything.

"They asked, 'What number do you want?', and I was like, 'I guess 73 if it's available,' just thinking to take whatever number is available," Williams said. "They said it was, so I was pretty stoked about that, getting to keep that number. It's a Bengals jersey, and that's what I'm most excited about, no matter what the number is."

A good start for a numbers guy.

Images of the Bengals' 2019 first round pick, offensive tackle Jonah Williams from the NFL combine and his career at Alabama.

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