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Original Issue

Flying First-Class Former skycap K.D. Williams now starts at linebacker for the Raiders


No player was happier to see the first Sunday of the NFL season
than K.D. Williams, a twice-cut outside linebacker who didn't
just stick with the Raiders but also started in their opener
against the Packers at Lambeau Field. Not bad for a guy who's
eight months removed from working as a skycap at Tampa
International Airport.

The six-foot, 235-pound Williams plays like a Tasmanian devil,
is hard to block at linebacker, raises hell on special teams and
is grateful to everyone in the NFL who has given him as much as
a look. "Thank you, thank you, Oakland Raiders!" he said during
training camp. "And thank you, Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City
Chiefs, even though you cut me. Every day I'm on the practice
field, I just really appreciate being here."

The journey to Oakland began at Division II Henderson (Ark.)
State, where Williams played for two seasons. From 1995 through
'97 he did stints with Winnipeg, Saskatchewan and Hamilton of
the CFL; in the spring of '98 he played for Frankfurt of NFL
Europe; and then last fall he failed trials with Dallas ("I went
home and cried for a week," Williams says) and Kansas City.
After being released from the Chiefs' practice squad last
November, Williams was working at the airport. A short time
later he received encouraging words from Bucs defensive tackle
Warren Sapp, whom Williams had met at a Tampa nightclub. "Keep
plugging," said Sapp, who upon learning of the linebacker's
plight wouldn't let Williams carry his bags. "All you need is
for one guy in this league to like you. Just one, and you've got
a job."

"What ate at me was knowing I could compete with these guys, and
there I was, carrying their bags," recalls the 26-year-old
Williams. "I mean, I picked off Doug Flutie in Canada. I have so
much passion for the game. I knew I could play, but I thought I
wouldn't get another chance. I was always angry with the Bucs
because they'd never give me a tryout."

But after defensive assistant Woody Lowe was hired from the
Chiefs last winter, he persuaded the Raiders to sign Williams as
a potential reserve linebacker and special teams player.
Williams went one better: He had 2 1/2 sacks in a preseason game
against the Cowboys and beat out six-year veteran James Folston
for the strongside linebacker job. Last year the Raiders ranked
fifth in the league in total defense but got only three sacks
from that position.

"He's energetic and aggressive, sometimes too aggressive," says
Oakland defensive coordinator Willie Shaw of Williams. "He
really runs hard to the ball, and now that he's learned to play
within the framework of the defense, I think he's really going
to help us."

In the Raiders' 28-24 loss to the Packers on Sunday, Williams
did just that. He had seven tackles and recovered a fumble, and
his interception of Brett Favre set up the touchdown that put
Oakland up 17-14. "I guess sometimes good stuff does happen to
people who wait," Williams said on Monday. "Just look at me."


COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO Williams set up Oakland's second touchdown with an interception that he returned to the Packers' five.