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In this case, practice is overrated

The Storm's Rod Williams leads the league in sacks. He dominates in other ways, too. And because of his other job, he rarely makes practice.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 27, 2001


If Rod Williams is lucky, he can make one or two Storm practices. Maybe three. But never all of them, and sometimes none of them, like last week, when the defensive lineman prepared for today's nationally televised showdown with unbeaten Grand Rapids by teaching and coaching at his other job.

Getting away for Storm practice has been a burden for Williams, a law studies teacher and assistant football coach at Madison County High, more than 200 miles away in Greenville, near Tallahassee.

Getting away for weekend games has not.

Williams is proving that sometimes, not a lot of practice makes perfect. His four sacks lead the Arena League, and his disruptive play -- two fumbles caused, one safety -- has made him the league's most effective lineman.

"So much for coaching, I guess," Storm coach Tim Marcum said.

Because many of the league's players have jobs away from the game, Williams' feat is nothing new. Last year, then-Storm wide receiver Lawrence Samuels missed most of the practices the season's first few weeks to finish getting a master's degree at West Alabama.

But though Samuels struggled to get his footing after missing so much action, Williams is excelling.

Williams has had the advantage of going through preseason camp (held during spring break), and his Madison County team held spring practice the past three weeks, ensuring that Williams stayed sharp through his hands-on style of teaching.

"I get a little running and working out in," said Williams, who passed a test to be a U.S. marshal after graduating from Florida A&M with a degree in criminal justice before deciding to teach.

"I'm one of those types of coaches that shows my players rather than tells them. I like to demonstrate.

"I think it's benefited me, he said. "I get to work on some techniques. I don't get a chance to go full speed, but just from watching them do some of the things I tell them to do and showing them ... ."

Williams said his players and students get a kick out of his Arena participation and watch televised Storm games. With today's game on TNN, Williams expects an earful when he sees his players again, though that could be awhile. School is out for the summer, and Williams is moving to Tampa to become a full-time Storm player.

"They love it," he said. "They're very critical, too. Every mistake. They sit down and break down the film. ... Coach, that one play you overextended, and we saw that guy pull you down."

Pulling Williams down has been no easy task.

Against Milwaukee, he had two sacks. Two weeks later against Detroit, he had two sacks and forced a fumble that was returned for a touchdown. On offense, he hasn't allowed a sack as a center, and even against the league's best nose tackle, Nashville's James Baron, he kept quarterback John Kaleo Kat-free.

"He's really improved his offense so, so much at center," Marcum said. "It's such a premium in this league to have a guy who can snap and block."

Said Williams: "One of my goals was to make the All-Arena team, but I want to see my name up there on the All-Ironman team (for the best two-way players), too."

Williams' value can be measured in other ways than sacks. In Arena football, with its quick drops in the pocket, passes and three-on-three line play, that number is always lower than in the outdoor game. The good players, Williams says, make pressure rather than sacks.

"A pressure and an interception is just as good as a sack ... even better, really," he said. "There's always somebody out there that can block you. My thing is to constantly apply pressure. I figure if I'm relentless enough, sooner or later I'll get there. But you want the quarterback to concentrate on the pressure around him. ... Then you have him."

Today: Storm at Grand Rapids

WHEN/WHERE: 3; Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, Mich.

TV/RADIO: TNN; WDAE-AM 620.

RECORDS: Storm 5-0; Rampage 5-0.

SERIES: Tampa Bays leads 2-1.

COACHES: Grand Rapids -- Mike Trigg (48-54, eighth season); Tampa Bay -- Tim Marcum (131-37, 13th season).

OUTLOOK: The winner becomes the lone unbeaten team in the league. The Storm has won seven straight regular-season games dating to last season. If it makes it eight in a row, it will have its 100th regular-season victory. Both teams are coming off wins over expansion teams. The Storm beat Detroit 41-14, and the Rampage edged Chicago 54-52. The Storm has beaten its opponents by an average of 22 points. Four Rampage wins have come down to the final minutes. The Storm's defense, rated near the top of the league, will have its hands full with one of the league's top quarterbacks, Clint Dolezel (27 TDs, three INTs). Storm QB John Kaleo has not thrown an interception this year. Offensive specialist James Bowden continues to be hobbled by injuries, but he is on pace to set a slew of receiving and return records for the Storm.

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