North State Journal’s 100 in 100 series will showcase the best athlete from each of North Carolina’s 100 counties. From Alamance to Yancey, each county will feature one athlete who stands above the rest. Some will be obvious choices, others controversial, but all of our choices are worthy of being recognized for their accomplishments — from the diamond and gridiron to racing ovals and the squared circle. You can see all the profiles as they’re unveiled here.
When Houston Texans general manager Charley Casserly told people that his team was thinking seriously about taking Mario Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, most thought it was simply a smokescreen to deflect attention from the player they really intended to pick: running back Reggie Bush.
But Casserly wasn’t blowing smoke. When it came time to make their selection, the Texans did take NC State’s star defensive end rather than the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, a move that was met with skepticism and surprise.
“I think if people had just listened to what we had said, they would have seen that we were serious about Mario Williams,” Casserly said after making Williams the first Wolfpack player ever to go No. 1 overall. “Once we brought him in here our statements never changed that we were seriously considering him for the first pick in the draft. I understand that people didn’t believe it, but we always said it and we believed it.”
Williams rewarded Casserly’s belief by playing six productive seasons for the Texans, setting team records with 53 sacks and 11 forced fumbles that stood until recently passed by J.J. Watt. He later signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills before finishing out his career with the Miami Dolphins, finishing with four Pro Bowl selections, 399 tackles, 97.5 sacks and 16 forced fumbles.
Setting team records was nothing new for the 6-foot-6, 300-pound native of Richlands. He was also the all-time sacks leader at State with 25.5 in his three college seasons, a mark that stood until another Wolfpack defensive player wearing jersey No. 9, Bradley Chubb, broke it in 2017.
Williams began his football career at Richlands High School, where he recorded 87 tackles, 13 sacks, 22 tackles for loss, five forced fumbles and five blocked kicks as a senior to earn All-State recognition from The Associated Press and a spot on the 2002 North Carolina Shrine Bowl team.
As a testament to his athleticism, he also rushed for 590 yards on three touchdowns after being pressed into service because of injuries and was a state qualifier in the shot put with a top throw of 52 feet, 9 inches.