Connor Williams

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

ARLINGTON, Texas — Soon after former Texas left tackle Connor Williams and a select few of the first-round prospects Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Saquon Barkley made their appearance on the red carpet, the party moved inside to AT&T Stadium.

Darnold, Rosen and Barkley all saw their names taken off the board in the top 10 to no surprise. Most mock drafts didn’t have Williams early in the first round. But after Williams watched Notre Dame have two offensive linemen selected at No. 6 and No. 9, followed by another four offensive linemen to cap off six total at the position taken in the first round, questions began to flurry.

“I firmly believe I'm the best offensive lineman in this class,” Williams said after his workout at Texas’ NFL Pro Day on March 28.

And this wasn’t an outlandish statement. Williams has asserted his dominance every time he’s set foot on the field. But as NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell approached the podium with one final pick remaining in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft on Thursday night, it was clear –– Williams had dropped out of the first round.

“With the final pick in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, the Baltimore Ravens select Lamar Jackson.”

Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who dropped significantly as well, capped off the first round. Williams, who was in attendance, was forced to wait some more. But the Dallas-area native said he planned on returning for rounds two and three on Friday night.

“Was an amazing night and experience,” Williams tweeted after the first round concluded. “Never has been easy and would never want it any other way. Thank you for those following along and see you tomorrow night!”

Williams, along with his Longhorn teammates Malik Jefferson, DeShon Elliott, Holton Hill, Poona Ford, Michael Dickson and Chris Warren III, remain on the board. Round two begins with the Cleveland Browns picking first at AT&T Stadium on Friday at 6 p.m.

Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

ARLINGTON, Texas — All eyes shifted to Connor Williams hours before the 2018 NFL Draft even commenced as the former Longhorn left tackle stepped out onto the red carpet.

“It's always been a dream, but to actually be here and make a red carpet appearance is unreal,” Williams said. “I actually played my last high school game here so this is unreal.”

Williams saw his career at Coppell High School come to a close in 2014 when the Cowboys fell to DeSoto High School in the first round of the state playoffs.

Now, three-and-a-half years later, Williams –– who sported a suit in various shades of blue –– was being interviewed by NFL Hall of Famer and former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin on the NFL Network just hours ahead of the draft.

“We planned a little custom from head to toe,” Williams said. “Being from Dallas, we had to throw in a little Cowboy blue.”

Williams’ journey to Thursday night hasn’t been a smooth one. The 6-foot-6-inch, 315-pound lineman has been nothing short of transparent about his childhood obstacles. From getting bullied, dealing with obesity and a speech impediment and entering college as a three-star recruit, Williams has discussed it all.

Most recently, the former Longhorn penned a letter to his bullies on NFL.com, which began with “DEAR BULLIES OF MY PAST, Thank you. No sarcasm intended. No hatred. Certainly, no anger. Just a simple thank you.”

“The thing about the story was that adversity hits you in all shapes and sizes and it can hit anybody throughout their life,” Williams said. “It's not about particularly what type of adversity it is, it’s about how you respond to it. Fortunately enough I had a family around me that was so influential in what I became. I’m just lucky to be here. I'm only here because of them.”

Williams was joined by his mother and father on the red carpet, who were both asked about Williams’ journey.

“I'm very proud of him. He knows what it takes and he does it,” Williams’ mother said. “We’ve talked all about it, but I can't talk about it right now.”

As for his weight battle, Williams’ father revealed the secret.

“It started out with P90X at 5:30 every morning. It was tough,” his father said. “Honestly, it was his character. Character is what separates all these guys here. This is a long road for all these boys to be here, and it’s just great to see them all.”

Williams will return to AT&T Stadium on Friday night for day two of the NFL Draft, where he is expected to be selected.

Photo Credit: Juan Figueroa | Daily Texan Staff

They say one loss doesn’t define a season, but it can sure alter one.

Right when the Longhorns thought things were figured out in a road win over West Virginia, they blew a lead late in the fourth quarter less than a week later and lost to Texas Tech, finishing the regular season 6–6.

But that’s all deep in the past now as far as head coach Tom Herman is concerned. The Longhorns have a date with Missouri in the Texas Bowl on Dec. 27 in Houston to prepare for.

“We’re a resilient group,” Herman said on a bowl conference call Sunday evening. “I think the sting is gone already. We’re looking forward to this.”

The good news for Texas right now: the Longhorns are going bowling for the first time in three years, returning to the same bowl as their last appearance in 2014. Playing in the postseason also gets Texas a few extra weeks of practice — something it hasn’t experienced the past two years.

“That is critical,” Herman said. “This is a team that has not had that kind of development and for the last two winters has basically gone home for four weeks, five weeks. That development is critical in terms of staying with your competition that are going to bowl games.”

But then there’s the bad news for Texas.

It began last Monday with the announcements of junior running back Chris Warren III deciding to transfer from the program and junior left tackle Connor Williams declaring for the NFL Draft, opting to also skip the bowl game.

It continued on Thursday with junior safety and Thorpe Award finalist DeShon Elliott announcing his decision to declare for the draft and skip the bowl game. Junior cornerback Holton Hill, who was suspended for the rest of the season following the TCU game for a violation of team rules, announced on Monday that he was declaring for the draft, too.

Many people suspect that junior linebacker Malik Jefferson will be next in line to jump ship for the draft. Junior cornerback Kris Boyd could also leave early.

But as of right now, Herman said he doesn’t know what Jefferson and any others will decide. A lot will depend on the draft grades players receive from NFL scouts. Herman said players could know their draft grades this week.

“I think the rest of them are waiting to get their grades back and make some informed decisions based on some of the NFL stuff,” Herman said.

The loss of Elliott and Hill, and the potential exits of more defensive players, is unfortunate timing for Herman. The Longhorns will square off in the Texas Bowl with a Missouri offense that is ranked in the top-10 in the country in both scoring and total offense.

After a 1–5 start to the year, Missouri (7–5, 4–4 SEC) rides into bowl season on the heels of a six-game winning streak.

“They’re playing some of the best football in the country right now,” Herman said. “They’re playing really, really well offensively.”

It’s difficult to label a bowl game like the Texas Bowl, insignificant in the College Football Playoff picture, a must-win game. But the Longhorns, who sit at 6–6, can avoid a fourth consecutive losing season with a win.

A loss to Missouri and Herman would finish his first season at Texas with the same record that former head coach Charlie Strong finished with in his first year in 2014.

Asked on Sunday how critical it is for Texas to finish this season with a winning record, Herman said it’s important but not a huge difference-maker.

“I don’t think one number difference on either side is really gonna make or break anything in our program,” Herman said. “We’re gonna stay the course, and we’re gonna continue to develop our players. We’re gonna try like heck to win the thing and prepare as such.”

Injury updates

Herman said on Sunday that he expects junior nickelback P.J. Locke III and sophomore linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch will be back for the bowl game. Locke hasn’t played since the Baylor game on Oct. 28, in which he suffered an ankle injury. McCulloch injured his ankle against TCU on Nov. 4 and hasn’t played since.

Herman also said he’s “hoping” that junior left guard Patrick Vahe will be able to return from injury as well. Vahe sprained his MCL during the West Virginia game on Nov. 18.

Junior offensive lineman Elijah Rodriguez, who suffered an ankle injury in preseason camp and hasn’t played this season, was cleared for the Texas Tech game and could work his way back into the starting rotation for the bowl game, Herman said.

Other notes

Texas will be down to just graduate transfer Kendall Moore at the tight end position for the bowl game. Freshman Cade Brewer had surgery for his torn ACL, and Warren, who was Texas’ makeshift tight end the past couple games, is transferring. Herman also doesn’t want to burn redshirts on freshman Reese Leitao and senior Andrew Beck, who fractured his foot in preseason camp and has missed the entire season.

As far as the quarterback situation goes, Herman said on Sunday that he hasn’t addressed who the starter will be for the bowl game. Freshman Sam Ehlinger and sophomore Shane Buechele have “rotated reps with the ones and twos evenly” in Texas’ two practices so far, Herman said.