JOHN C. COTEY
Louis Williams is a rare lineman for Storm coach Tim Marcum.
In his 17 years as an Arena Football League coach, a career that has led him to the Hall of Fame, the league record for wins and more championships than anyone, there have been a few constants for Tim Marcum.
But maybe none more than this: his linemen have to be defensive.
Give Marcum the quick feet and speed of a defensive end, the aggressive nature of a tackle or the crush-the-quarterback mind-set of a linebacker, and he will teach them how to play offense. As he is fond of joking, "We'll teach them how to hold."
In the two-way game of Arena football, Marcum always has preferred a pass rush over pass protection. If he can get both, excellent. If he can have one, let him start with the defensive.
Louis Williams, then, would be one of those rare exceptions.
An all-state lineman in high school at Fort Walton Beach, one of the country's top recruits and a versatile starter at LSU who played every position on the line, Williams is exactly what Marcum would not seek.
For months while Williams was on the Carolina practice squad (he was a seventh-round NFL draft pick), Storm assistant Dave Ewart would check in with Williams to remind him to keep Tampa Bay in mind.
When his contract expired in March and Carolina showed no interest in renewing, Williams remembered and now is the Storm's starting center.
"I'm still getting my feet wet, but I'm really enjoying it here so far," Williams said. "I definitely see myself with a future in this game."
Williams wants to get back to the NFL, at least to put two more seasons in to be eligible for a pension, but says he's had more fun in two months in Tampa than in three years on the Panthers practice squad.
If he can get those two additional years in the NFL, he can see himself playing Arena football for "8-10 years."
While Williams might not fit Marcum's mold of defensive-minded offensive lineman, he thinks he's getting closer.
The most recent time he played defense was in high school, on the rare occasion his team needed him. Even then, it wasn't as a typical three-point stance down lineman. His coach used him as something of a speed rushing linebacker/end, utilizing his size (6-5, 270).
A left tackle in college, he tried to gain weight, breaking the 300-pound barrier at one point but feeling slow and lethargic because of it. He was moved to center for his senior year. "I wish they had done it sooner," Williams said of the shift, designed to help his NFL prospects.
He went to the NFL combine his senior season at 299. He no longer flirts with the idea of sacrificing his nimbleness for the added girth. For lunch after Thursday's Storm practice, he had brown rice, tuna and fruit.
"I've never been comfortable at that magic number of 300; I hate feeling bloated. The big knock on me was I wasn't big enough. You know, I'm just a tall, lean, long-bodied guy."
The fact that Williams wasn't a sloth-like, 350-pound offensive lineman helped Marcum decide he could be an exception to his rule.
"He's an athlete," Marcum said. "He's got some talent and could definitely be a player in this league."
Williams is working hard to become a defensive force, or at least not a liability at nose guard.
He remembers his first tackle - it came on kickoff coverage - and twice he has just missed his first sack.
"I came around the corner and just about had the guy," Williams said. "I could feel the ball go past my fingertips. But I got a couple of pressures, so that's good.
"I know that if I'm going to succeed in this league I need to elevate my game on defense. If you want to make the money, you better improve defensively."TODAY: STORM VS. NEW ORLEANS
WHEN/WHERE: 3; St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa. TV/RADIO: Ch. 8; WDAE-AM 620. RECORDS: Voodoo 10-4, Storm 7-7.
COACHES: Voodoo - Mike Neu (17-13, second season), Storm - Tim Marcum (165-62, 16th season).
SERIES: New Orleans leads 1-0.
TICKETS: $12-$43 ($100 front row, XO Club); (813) 301-6600.
NOTES: New Orleans is one of four teams that have clinched playoff berths. Tampa Bay is among eight contending for four spots. The Storm, unbeaten in four games, likely needs to win its final two to qualify. The Voodoo returned three interceptions for TDs in a 55-43 victory on March 7. Former Storm B.J. Cohen leads New Orleans in sacks (four) and forced fumbles (four). Voodoo offensive specialist Aaron Bailey is fourth in the league in scoring (192 points) and all-purpose yards (160.9 per game). The Storm's Freddie Solomon is fifth in scoring (180). New Orleans fullback Dan Curran leads in rushing (21.4 yards per game) and rushing TDs (21).
- Compiled by Frank Pastor.