Des Williams knows all about the passion of Bulldog Nation.
The former Dacula standout and University of Georgia fullback has been experiencing it firsthand ever since he committed to play for his home-state team as a senior in high school.
And now, after graduating from UGA in May, he thinks he can launch a successful business because of it.
Williams has partnered with friend Dan Everett to create "Sic'Um Dog Signatures," an online memorabilia store for Georgia football fans.
The company, which is also has former UGA running back Danny Ware as a minority owner, opened in March and has sold close to $50,000 in merchandise already. It has set up monthly signings at the Mall of Georgia for recently-drafted Bulldogs or UGA alums already in the NFL.
And here's the thing Williams has learned from UGA fans: It doesn't matter if you're a superstar like Davey Pollack or a converted fullback who lost two years to injuries, they are going to relish the chance to meet you.
"That's what makes it so cool," Williams said. "The first time we set up an autograph show I was kind of worried. Because I wasn't a big-name person, I only played a couple of years on the field. But just to see the reaction of the fans. They are so excited just to meet a Georgia Bulldog, you don't have to be a superstar.
"I was sitting there next to D.J. Shockley, Quentin Moses and Danny Ware and I was getting the same love and the same appreciation. It was cool."
That type of love and appreciation is what spurred a life-changing brainstorm by Everett one night last year.
"Being friends with Danny and Des, and I know guys like (current UGA quarterback Matthew) Stafford and Quentin, my friends were always saying, 'Hey, bring us back something signed,'" said Everett. "So I was going over there four nights and week and having them sign two or three things a night.
"So that's when I thought this could be really profitable ... especially when you think how famous college players are now. So I thought we could utilize that fame."
There is a catch though.
They are not allowed to sell any items of a current UGA football player. So if you're looking for a Stafford autograph or a game jersey worn by Caleb King, you'll have to wait.
"We can't sell their stuff while they're in college," Everett said. "Once they declare (for the draft), that's when we can."
On the Web site (www.sicumdogsigantures.
com) right now there is memorabilia ranging from a Shockley mini-helmet to a Reggie Brown signed picture to an autographed Herschel Walker Sports Illustrated. And the next autograph session, Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Mall of Georgia, will feature recent Bulldogs Tra Battle, Paul Oliver and Martrez Milner.
Everett thinks Williams himself has been the key to building up the client base and the autographed items. Not only was he a teammate of most of the aforementioned players, but he was an extremely likable teammate.
"His people skills are amazing," Everett said. "He's just such a good people person."
He wasn't a bad football player either. The former Daily Post Super Six selection was one of the top players in the state his senior year at Dacula, and after starting out as a linebacker in Athens he was moved to the offensive backfield in 2003.
Williams played in 12 games in both 2003 and 2004 and his blocking from the fullback position helped the Bulldogs average 156 yards rushing a game in 2004. But he missed all of his junior year with a torn pectoral muscle that he suffered during preseason practice.
That's when his life changed.
"I was able to take a full load of major courses," Williams said. "That's when I got really interested in school and really started paying attention. I networked a lot, I made a lot of connections and I tried to set myself up. So if anything else were to happen, and the NFL wasn't a viable option, I could put myself in a good situation.
"I wanted to make sure I
didn't put my eggs all in one basket."
Because those eggs would have been cracked, like his shoulder, when he got hurt against Vanderbilt in the fifth game of the 2006 season and was forced to miss the rest of the year. Again.
At that point, the kid who had grown up playing football knew his career on the gridiron was over.
"It was kind of humbling," Williams said, "but at the same time it really refocused me on what I was really at school for. I ended up getting a double major (Housing and Consumer Economics) in four years, which is a feat in itself and I left in everybody's good graces."
Meaning he is still very much a part of the UGA football program and is continually building relationships with current players - which just so happens to benefit his company as well.
Williams and Everett both have full-time jobs outside of Sic'Um Dog Signatures - Williams is a project manager for Innovative Outdoors and Everett is a chemical engineer in Athens - but they also have big goals for their memorabilia business.
They will be set up at every UGA home game this fall, at a site to be determined, with former UGA players signing autographs, and they hope to open up a retail store in Athens sometime before the 2008 season.
"The potential is almost unlimited," Everett said.
Said Williams: "Georgia has a huge fan base. Not just Georgia fans either, there are just so many football fans in this state. So it's really cool to be able to bring players in and give the fans an opportunity to meet them, outside of the Dawg Walk. It's cool to bring the fan interaction back and give fans a place for authentic Georgia stuff."