‘Like Superman’: How Trent Williams became the best left tackle on the planet

‘Like Superman’: How Trent Williams became the best left tackle on the planet

Trent Williams is playing arguably the best football of his career — in his 14th NFL season at the age of 35. How has the former OU star done it? His Sooner brothers may have the answer.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Feb 11, 2024, 6:00am CST

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Feb 11, 2024, 6:00am CST

(Want Sellout Crowd content sent directly to your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletters here.)

Tavaris Jeffries can still remember the way he and the rest of OU’s offensive linemen tried to keep up with DeMarco Murray.

“DeMarco used to leave us,” Jeffries said of the speedy Sooner tailback who went on to play seven seasons in the NFL. “He would take off.”

He chuckled.

“You really had to put the pedal to the metal to get around there and help get that lead block,” Jeffries said.

But one offensive lineman regularly kept up with Murray: Trent Williams

“Trent was pretty much … right there with him the entire time,” Jeffries marveled.

Folks are still marveling at Williams.

In his 14th NFL season, the former Sooner is in the discussion for best left tackle of all time but the current 49er is the undisputed best left tackle currently in the game. He’s going up against defensive ends who are big and fast and a decade younger than him, but at 35 years old, he’s still the most highly graded left tackle by Pro Football Focus.

San Francisco Chronicle sports columnist Scott Ostler recently called Williams “the 320-pound, ballet-dancing professor of quantum football who creates room for (Christian) McCaffrey to create and is quarterback Brock Purdy’s personal bodyguard.”

To think, Williams was in the same draft class as fellow Sooner greats Sam Bradford and Gerald McCoy. Bradford went No. 1 overall in 2009, McCoy No. 3 and Williams No. 4. 

Bradford and McCoy are well into their post-playing days while Williams is playing the best football of his life.

Offensive linemen of Williams’ era marvel at his longevity.

“I can’t even wake up and step out of bed without my back hurting,” said Jon Cooper, the former OU center who was a year ahead of Williams.

Williams is a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer who has just about every accolade. 

But Sunday, he’ll do something for the first time: play in the Super Bowl.

“I feel blessed, man,” Williams told reporters in Las Vegas earlier this week. “Super happy about it, of course. Just thankful for this opportunity to try to get a ring.”

Winning a Super Bowl is about the only thing Williams hasn’t done during his career. He’s in a position to do so with San Francisco — and to have a major role in the Niners’ hopes — because of a formula that former OU teammates say was there long before he rose to the top of the football food chain.

They say it’s a combination of almost unbelievable physical skills (i.e., keeping up with DeMarco Murray) and a mentality that was laser-focused on excellence.

Not being good. Not being great.

Being the best.

“I’ve never been OK with just being good,” Williams said during his Opening Night press conference earlier this week. 

Cooper recognized Williams’ attitude and skill as soon as he stepped on campus in Norman. Cooper, who was a four-year Sooner starter at center, remembers Williams being fairly raw when he arrived from Longview, Texas. Still, it was obvious he had a higher level of athleticism. And strength. And speed.

Soon, Cooper realized Williams also had a unique mindset.

“His mentality is to dominate,” said Cooper, now the offensive line coach on Jeff Lebby’s staff at Mississippi State. “If he’s got an opportunity to embarrass somebody or physically dominate somebody, he’s going to take that opportunity.”

Over the years, Cooper heard offensive linemen talk about simply doing their job.

“He’s never had that mentality,” Cooper said of Williams.

Jeffries said, “It was a switch. He has a switch inside of him where off the field, he’s a normal guy, but on the field, when he hit that switch, he’s locked in. He’s locked in all the way.

“He chose every day on every play that he was going to be the dominant guy on the field.”

To achieve that, both Cooper and Jeffries say Williams was a dedicated technician. He didn’t rely on his athletic abilities to get him by. He didn’t assume he knew everything.

Jeffries remembers how Williams always made the right block at the right time. Always took the proper angle. Always made the best pursuit.

That wasn’t by accident.

Williams prepared himself for those moments.

“He just understood the game so well to know to put himself in the right position at the right time to make that play happen,” Jeffries said.

A year after Cooper finished at OU, he got a phone call from Williams. It was during the 2009 season, a year that held a ton of hope for the Sooners with the likes of Sam Bradford, Gerald McCoy and, yes, Williams but that had gone off the rails because of injuries. The Sooners were so beat up that Williams was asked to work some at center.

Williams, already a big-time pro prospect at left tackle, called Cooper to ask for advice about playing center.

“The fact that a guy … that you knew was gonna be a high first-round pick that was willing to go do that for his teammates?” Cooper said. “It says a lot. There’s a lot of guys nowadays if they asked them to do it, they’d opt out or whatever. 

“There’s a lot of guys that wouldn’t have done it that were in the same situation as him with all the money that he could lose.”

That level of devotion and passion has made Williams one of the best players on the planet — and one of the most beloved and respected guys in the entire NFL.

Five years ago, Williams found out he had dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans, a rare form of soft-tissue cancer. He had noticed a growth on his head six years earlier, but it wasn’t correctly diagnosed until 2019. Doctors worried it might have spread to his brain.

Even though it hadn’t, Williams required surgeries removing almost a third of his scalp. He would have staples and stitches and skin grafts in the aftermath of the surgery.

His cancer battle took him out of football in 2019, and many wondered if he’d ever play again. 

That included Williams.

“It was tough not knowing if I would ever play again,” Williams said during Opening Night. “But it was even tougher not knowing if I would see my kids get married.”

Williams not only recovered and returned to football but also kicked it into a higher gear. 

After demanding a trade from Washington — Williams believes the team’s medical staff were aware of the growth on his head but dismissed it as nothing to be concerned about — he landed in San Francisco. He has been a first-team All-NFL pick three of his four seasons with the Niners.

He was never a first-teamer in Washington.

Williams also never won a playoff game during his 10 years there, and now, he’s one win from a Super Bowl title.

No one is happier for him than his OU linemates. Even without the bumps in Williams’ road, those Sooners are aware of how difficult a position he plays and how high a level at which he’s played.

“You gotta be like Superman,” said Jeffries, who now trains offensive linemen in the San Antonio area. 

The left tackle protects the quarterback’s blind side.

“You have to understand paying left tackle, it comes with a lot of criticism, a spotlight on you because if you slip up, it’s your fault,” Jeffries said. “It’s one of those highly favored but highly criticized positions.

“There are freaks on the edge. … You gotta be their kryptonite.”

Being Superman and Kryptonite at the same time?

One more thing not to put by Trent Williams.

Share with your crowd
Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming

The latest from Sellout Crowd

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; The Oklahoma City Thunder bench watch the final minute of their game against the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Does OKC need more Aaron Wiggins?

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder fans cheer as their team scores against the Dallas Mavericks during the second quarter of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    Thunder-Mavericks: Why these playoffs might spawn a new OKC rival

  • May 9, 2024; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, USA; Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic (77) drives to the basket beside Oklahoma City Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (2) during the second half of game two of the second round for the 2024 NBA playoffs at Paycom Center. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

    OKC fans chanted ‘Luka sucks,’ but Doncic’s play said otherwise

  • Tailgating on The Grove on the Ole Miss campus in Oxford, Ms., on Saturday September 15, 2018.

Pre309

    OU’s move to the SEC: Listing the things to look foward to

  • Ireland travelblog: Farewell to the Emerald Isle, which keep Americans coming