Jersey, not Williams himself, to be retired

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Quarterback Cam Newton is going to his brother's wedding. Wide receiver Steve Smith is playing golf with his son and enjoying a post-round Shirley Temple at the clubhouse. Tackle Jordan Gross is going camping.

But no member of the Carolina Panthers will have a prouder moment during this bye weekend than running back DeAngelo Williams.

He'll see his high school jersey retired on Friday night.

The honor is long overdue. The University of Memphis retired Williams' No. 20 in 2006.

You would have thought Wynne (Ark.) High School would have take his No. 34 out of circulation long before now, considering he led the Yellowjackets to a state championship as a senior in 2001 with a single-season record 2,204 yards and 34 touchdowns.

But at least Williams gets to return for the special moment ranked third in the NFL in rushing three games into the 2013 season.

"Has everybody played already?'' Williams deadpanned when talking about his plans. "I don't keep up with all that. I'm trying to play my role and do my job here. That's all. I'm not into stats and all that stuff.''

Rushing yards are down across the NFL. LeSean McCoy's 395 yards for Philadelphia would have been leading through three weeks in 2012, but the gap between him and second-place Doug Martin of Tampa Bay would have been much closer.

Martin's 297 yards would have ranked sixth a year ago. Williams would have been seventh.

That's not to detract from what Williams has done. He's dispelling the myth that running backs begin to decline at 30. After reaching that age in April, he's on pace for 1,552 yards, a big reason the Panthers rank second in the league in rushing.

"He's just hitting the hole hard,'' coach Ron Rivera said. "When he's going and he knows where he wants to go, he hits that crease, it's one cut and he lowers his shoulder and goes. There's not a lot of dancing. He's very decisive. He's got great vision right now.''

Williams also knows when to take a loss, and the communication he has with the offensive line and Newton makes him valuable as a blocker in pass situations.

"We just need him to keep doing it,'' offensive coordinator Mike Shula said.

But for now, Williams is enjoying life away from football. He spent much of Thursday in a tree stand bow-hunting. He'll be in Arkansas for the retirement of his jersey Friday, back in Charlotte to take his daughter to the birthday party of fullback Mike Tolbert on Saturday and at an amusement park in nearby South Carolina with his daughter on Sunday.

His bye-week schedule is so busy that he had to tell a good friend from Arkansas he couldn't go hunting Saturday, and if you know Williams, you know that pains him.

But Williams likes staying busy off the field almost as much as he does on it. One of the first things he asked Shula when he replaced Rob Chudzinski as coordinator was how much of the new game plan revolved around running and what he thought of him as a back.

"I'll do whatever it takes to win,'' Williams said. "We can throw the ball every play, run every play, as long as it equals a W at the end of the day. If it doesn't, then we've got to talk.''

On Friday, all the talk at Wynne High will be about Williams and his epic accomplishments. And they were epic indeed, from rushing for 302 yards and six touchdowns in the playoffs against Greenwood High to scoring two rushing touchdowns, one receiving touchdown and one return touchdown in the state championship against Stuttgart.

It'll be a proud moment for a man who continues to do himself proud in the NFL.

Bonus stat: Entering Week 4, no player in the NFL outside of Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has two touchdowns of 40-plus yards. Ginn has scored on touchdown catches of 40 and 47 yards.