Juice Williams is not in the NFL nearly two years removed from his final season at Illinois, but he hasn't given up hope of his dream.
Williams is back in his hometown of Chicago, working for a public relations marking firm and continually preparing himself for another NFL shot. He played with the Chicago Slaughter of the Indoor Football League this past season and could return there next year if another opportunity doesn't present itself.
Williams is optimistic the NFL will come calling again. He was previously cut by the Chicago Bears prior to their 2010 season.
"I'm only 23 years old," Williams said on Wednesday. "There's guys who first played in the NFL at 29 or 30 years old. That's definitely within reach. There's no doubt in my mind I have the skills to be there. It's a matter of getting in the right hands and being prepared."
Williams had assumed his post-college career would have gone smoother. At Illinois, he had set the Illini's record for all-time total offense, most starts as a quarterback, led the Big Ten in passing and total offense in 2008, had more than 8,000 passing yards and 2,500 rushing yards in his career and helped Illinois to the Rose Bowl.
"Of course, not being cocky, a guy with my stats I thought I would be in the NFL with some team," Williams said. "It didn't work that way. I have a different plan in my life. I have to take a different road to get there. I learned not to bicker and moan because I didn't get my way. I still have to make money. I still have two children I have to provide for.
"It's part of me growing up, the transition from boy to man. That was something I learned. I knew what I wanted in life. It doesn't mean time would stop to achieve those goals."
Instead, Williams works during the day to pay the bills and uses his free time to stay in shape and work on his quarterback skills. He trains at local health clubs, his old high school and sometimes travels back down to Champaign.
Williams does still keep his eye on the Illini. He especially has taken interest in current starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase's career. Scheelhaase was redshirting during Williams' final year. Like a proud mentor, Williams has been impressed by Scheelhaase' growth in his second year at the helm.
Ultimately, Williams believed Scheelhaase will go down as one of the Illini's greatest quarterbacks.
"Everything I've done at Illinois win-wise, strategic-wise, record-wise, I think he's going to break everything I did," Williams said. "He's a smart kid. He took the things I did, right and wrong, and molded himself into a great quarterback. I think that's going to be really good for him down the line. He has the best of both worlds."
Williams was hopeful this year's team will end up in a Rose Bowl like the 2007 squad, but he doesn't see a lot of similarities between them. In 2007, Illinois lost early and had to build momentum. He thought this year's team began with a surge after a 4-0 start and now has to find a way to keep it.
Williams plans to be at Illinois for Saturday's game against Northwestern. The Wildcats were always one of his favorite opponents even if they did abuse him.
"It was always a tough game for me," Williams said. "I would be beat up and bruised. It was always fun."
When asked for his prediction, Williams didn't give a score, just a team.
"Illini win," he said.