The fifth-year senior offensive lineman, who is from Brookwood High in Lawrenceville, Ga., entered his final year at Alabama as little more than a player who only heard his named called when games were out of reach.
Even in the season opener when Williams replaced Arie Kouandjio at left guard, the Crimson Tide had a sizable lead over Virginia Tech before he entered the game.
That all changed Saturday against Texas A&M when Williams went from seldom-used backup to key contributor on a decisive drive. He replaced right guard Anthony Steen on the Tide’s final touchdown drive in a 49-42 victory. In an instant, Williams went from “watching a shootout on the sideline” to being apart of an “unbelievable game” in an “electric atmosphere.”
“Honestly, it was one of my biggest dreams coming true, being a part of that,” Williams said. “Being a part of that drive and scoring that touchdown, emotionally, it's been a long time coming. A lot of hard work and a lot of blood, sweat and tears and it was amazing to be a part of that.”
Like every other game, Williams stood patient and remained locked in. He acknowledged remaining mentally engaged while not playing isn’t easy.
“It’s pretty tough, but it’s a part of being here,” he said. “There are a lot of great players and not everybody is going to get to play. When your time comes, you have to step up and perform. Just always paying attention to what’s going on because a helmet might come off or somebody might get rolled up into.
“You always have to be on your ‘A’ game mentally or else you’re going to be the idiot on TV getting screamed at by coach (Nick Saban) because you’re not paying attention to the game.”
Williams arrived on campus in 2009 as a right guard, but redshirted his first season. In 2011, he played center and was Williams Vlachos’ backup. Last year, he was the backup left tackle and started playing left guard again. Williams said the position changes helped him get “a real good understanding of the offense.”
But Williams isn’t the first Tide offensive lineman to fill in the sixth man role. As a senior in 2011, Alfred McCullough was a versatile lineman who played both guard or tackle. That season, McCullough started the Tennessee, LSU and Auburn games at right guard and the Mississippi State and Georgia Southern games at left tackle. He also backed up Chance Warmack at left guard and Barrett Jones at left tackle.
McCullough, who now plays for the Tampa Bay Storm of the Arena Football League, said while Williams may not get the same amount of physical reps as starters, the mental reps are just as important. Always being tuned in at practice is key for game preparation.
“You can’t really think about it like someone could go down,” McCullough said by telephone this week. “You just have to make sure you go in every week knowing you prepared yourself to step in and make sure the offensive line doesn’t skip a beat.”
McCullough remembers Williams as a young player.
“He had all of the intangibles of being able to play and being able to start,” McCullough said. “He just had a lot of talented players in front of him.”
Now, Williams is getting recognition for his versatility as the Tide’s “sixth man” on the offensive line.
“We think Kellen is kind of a jack-of-all trades for us,” Saban said. “He’s a fifth-year senior and he’s played a lot, has a lot of experience. We really look at him as a starter on our team.”
Williams' teammates all say he brings the energy to practice with his jokes and good spirit.
“For the past couple of years that I’ve been here, he’s been that guy that’s been positive and stuff like that,” left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio said. “Sometimes he says it to be funny. When he says it during camp, he says really good stuff like, 'C’mon guys, let’s go.' Sometime he says it with sarcasm. It’s funny but it gets the offensive line going. That’s my guy.”
Williams was mentioned in the same sentence as former Tide All-American Barrett Jones, who also played every position on the offensive line during his storied career. Williams isn’t buying the comparisons, though.
“Barrett’s a great player. That's awesome I'm being compared, but I'm not nearly as good as Barrett,” Williams said. “As far as my versatility goes, I’m buying into my role. Wherever the team needs me, I’ll fill in. I don’t have any preference.”
Anniston Star Sports Writer Marq Burnett covers Alabama athletics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @marq_burnett.