A strong presence

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Jesse Williams is a creature that defies explanation; a creature because that's what he'd prefer to be called. The self-proclaimed "Monstar" is the thing under every frightened child's bed, the chilling silhouette of a stranger at the end of a dark alley.

His shadow is imposing. What lies beneath accomplishes no less: the tattoos that form a gritty lattice on his rich olive skin, the mohawk that stretches back to his hulking shoulders, the ghoulish eye black that runs down his cheeks like war paint.

Williams, the starting nose tackle at the University of Alabama, is a physical specimen. His measurements -- 6-foot-4, 320 pounds -- don't begin to describe the Australian's raw strength and abilities. Prior to the start of fall camp, Williams famously bench-pressed 600 pounds.

And it could have been more. The senior from Brisbane doesn't even know his own limits.

"They cut me off at 600," Williams said in his thick Aussie accent. "I felt I could have done more, but just for safety reasons that was smart."

His teammates are in agreement, for their own sake as much as his. Center Barrett Jones tweeted simply, "I have to block that," when he saw the picture of him working out, lifting nearly double his weight.

Damion Square lines up alongside Williams at practice every day. The senior defensive end marveled at Williams' strength when he arrived at Alabama as a junior college transfer a year ago. Now, he has come to expect anything and everything from him.

"I'm proud that he reached that goal of 600," Square said. "I guess it's a 'wow' to the public, but for us, we knew he was going to get it."

So no surprise at all?

"None, none whatsoever," Square said. "He can lift more, I think. It gets better and better with Jesse."

Nico Johnson, Alabama's leading returning tackler from a year ago, chimed in as well.

"He probably could do more than that, honestly," Johnson said. "I don't think he even knows how strong he is."

Safety Robert Lester said he has never seen a player take more ownership of a weight room than Williams. In fact, it's the one place Lester knows he can always find him.

"He lives in the weight room," Lester said. "He's in there every day, after hours, on days that we've already worked out."

Added Square: "That's one of the places he thrives. He works hard all around, but the weight room is his."

Part of Williams' strength comes naturally. No matter how many hours most players spend in the gym, they'll never look like him. But the main reason he's so powerful is because he works hard at it. And as he moves from defensive end to the more physically demanding position of nose tackle this season, he needs to be in the best shape of his life.

"It comes in handy, just being fit overall," Williams said. "Being able to play as much as I can, it helps not having to cycle people through all the time."

Josh Chapman was the starter at nose tackle last season, and was selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. Like most players at the position under coach Nick Saban, Chapman's main priority was to eat up blockers so his teammates could run freely and make plays. His stat line -- 16th on the team in tackles and just three sacks -- reflected the demands of the position.

Williams, though, is looking to do better, and add his own twist to the center of the defensive line. And like everything else in his life, he's not going to hold back his personality in doing so.

"I like to bring my own different stuff to it," Williams said. "I like to not be just stuck there taking double-teams. I like to pass-rush as well, so hopefully I'll be able to play the majority of downs."

For as well as Williams performed last season, finishing slightly ahead of Chapman in tackles, he wants more. In what has become a microcosm of the team as a whole, Williams is hungry even after winning the BCS title just seven months ago. The accolades, showing up on several preseason awards watch lists, are nice but unnecessary.

"The national championship was good, but that's last year's team," Williams said. "We're a totally different team. Everyone else is trying to work and find their spot.

"Everyone's always got room to improve. That's what we're trying to do the most this year is not get complacent, and just get better as a whole."

For Williams, that starts in the weight room. While everyone else is worn out and ready to rest, he's throwing dumbbells around and pushing himself to new heights.

"There are days where you might have a hard run day, or a hard run day and we have to work out, and I'm like, 'There's nothing else I can do to better myself on this day,' " Lester said. "And those days, Jesse is in there working."