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Wendall Williams sets 40 record at regional combine

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  • By Brian Hall Special to NFL.com
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Wendall Williams exhaled deeply and shook off his arms.

The NFL hopeful was trying to shake off the goose bumps from hearing what he had just run at the NFL regional combine in Minneapolis on Saturday.

A receiver and kick returner from the tiny University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky, Williams ran a blazing 4.19 seconds in the 40-yard dash. The mark set a record for the NFL regional combines and would have broken the record set by Chris Johnson at the annual scouting combine in Indianapolis.

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"That's kind of surreal," Williams said. "It's actually giving me a little bit of jitters right now.

NFL teams might get their own jitters when they hear of Williams' speed and athleticism.

Williams ran so fast and jumped so high Saturday that the four scouts in attendance - from the Vikings, Packers, Chiefs and Panthers - pulled him off the field to interview him.

Williams' time of 4.19 seconds was the hand time, which is the official time sent to teams when they are provided information of the regional combine, one of five such events this year. Williams was clocked at 4.32 seconds by laser timing.

He also recorded a 45-inch vertical jump, the best of the day from any of the athletes competing at the regional combine held at the indoor practice facility of the Minnesota Vikings.

Matt Birk, former Super Bowl center and now the NFL's director of football development, was in attendance.

"Guy was absolutely flying," Birk tweeted.

Johnson's 4.24-second time has been held in lore, and lasted since he was coming out of East Carolina in 2008 and was a first-round draft pick of the Tennessee Titans. The fastest time at the combine in Indianapolis this year was 4.31 seconds by Georgia running back Keith Marshall.

Meanwhile, Williams' vertical leap would have qualified for the best performance in Indianapolis this year and tie the record most recently done by Kansas City Chiefs receiver Chris Conley last year.

The athleticism has been displayed before.

Williams was the NAIA national champion in the long jump and was fourth in the country in the 100 and 200 meters in the spring.

"To be honest, I feel like I can get more explosive," Williams said Saturday. "It's something I have been working on these past two months is me getting to be more explosive."

Williams trained at InFocus in Indianapolis to prepare for Saturday's regional combine. He's also hoping to prove he's more than an athlete.

Williams was named an All-American kick returner by the American Football Coaches Association this past season. He had a 32.4-yard kickoff return average and scored three touchdowns, including two in one game on 287 return yards. He had 141 yards on six punt returns, a 23.5-yard average.

Offensively, Williams caught 15 passes for 457 yards, had 205 yards rushing and scored 11 more touchdowns.

"He looks really natural," said Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely, who was also competing Saturday. "He really explodes off that line and attacks the ball in the air. You can really tell that he's a baller."

Proving so to NFL teams is another thing.

Birk, who made the NFL from Harvard, knows a chance is all some athletes need. There are 103 players on current NFL rosters who participated in regional combines.

"Everybody's got a different path to the NFL," Birk said. "A lot of these guys get overlooked. There's only so many spots in Indy...his gives these guys a chance, any college football player who wants, the chance to showcase their skills, and it also helps out our clubs."

Williams knew he wouldn't get any invite to the combine in Indianapolis, so he concentrated on preparing for Saturday's regional combine. He called the training a full-time job. The work paid off when word of his record-breaking time started to circulate.

"Being from a small school, it's possible," Williams said. "If you have talent, they're going to find you. You've just got to put yourself in the right opportunity to get that chance."

For a moment, Williams wasn't sure he would have what it took Saturday to earn the attention.

He said he was aiming for a time around just under 4.3 seconds in the 40 but wasn't feeling his best when he was getting ready to run.

"Actually, when I got to the line to run my 40, my legs were pretty wobbly," Williams said. "I didn't expect that at all."

Likely, neither did any NFL teams until Williams got the opportunity on Saturday.

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