PHILADELPHIA -- Soup and sandwich is the lunch of the day in the Philadelphia Eagles locker room, but the Styrofoam carton with "Williams, 89" scrawled on top and sandwich inside goes untouched. Calvin Williams instead sips slowly from his cup of soup and gulps from the invigorating air of reality.
"I pinch myself all the time," he says, sitting in his dressing cubicle at Veterans Stadium. "Sometimes in the morning I just sit up and stare and think how far I've come. A lot of people would like to be in my position.
"Then I think about all the sacrifices I made . . . not going home in the summers, staying at school to work and lift weights. All the sacrifices I made, now they're paying off."
His position is starting wide receiver on a team with grand expectations this year. Although it's just a 90-minute drive up I-95, this is a pretty fair distance from his days as an All-Metro football player and would-be basketball star at Dunbar High in Baltimore.
Williams, 24, has come a long way just since last year, when he was an unheralded fifth-round pick out of Purdue, the third of four receivers the Eagles drafted. By the end of training camp, he had won a starting job ahead of veteran Cris Carter and two other higher draft picks. By the end of the season, he owned the club rookie record with nine touchdown catches, and wound up on the Football News All-Rookie team.
It was a good first step, but the journey is by no means complete.
"The second year is important," said Zeke Bratkowski, quarterback coach for the Eagles. "The success he had the first year is ancient history. Whatever he did last year is not good enough this year, because he is a key figure in our whole offensive concept."
Williams has heard this speech often this summer, either from Bratkowski, who was not with the Eagles in 1990, or from receivers coach Lew Carpenter, who was. The phrase that Carpenter bounces off Williams is "veterans syndrome" and it does not imply something good. Carpenter preaches that Williams must practice like he plays, acknowledging that sometimes human nature takes a person down the easier path.
"You fall into that comfortable situation where you kind of have it made almost and you just kind of coast and live off your reputation," Williams said. "In order to be better, you've got to keep building and building.
"He [Carpenter] says man is a creature of habit and I believe that's true. In practice if you jog across the field, you'll do that in a game. Even on backside running plays [plays away from Williams' side of the field], you have to bust your butt.
"I felt myself at times during this camp falling into that situation. It's easy to do. But I'm getting there. I still feel I have a lot of work to do."
That point was reinforced in a conversation Williams had with Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham and tight end Keith Jackson about their experiences in the Pro Bowl. San Francisco's Jerry Rice was the object lesson.
"Keith and Randall told me when they were in the Pro Bowl they were so amazed because this is the Pro Bowl and you don't expect players to work hard, but Jerry Rice was out there every play, busting his butt," Williams said. "They thought that's what made Jerry Rice such a great receiver."
In a league that is overflowing with exciting, big-play receivers (Andre Rison, Sterling Sharpe, Willie Anderson, Andre Reed, Henry Ellard, Art Monk, Anthony Carter), Williams is attempting to establish his own niche, to find his own identity.
Bratkowski calls him a "very steady, very consistent wide receiver" with an "outstanding work ethic, above-average speed and above-average hands."
Carpenter said Williams "can be one of the top wide receivers in the league," but suggested, "He could be better. He's got to pick up his intensity."
In his second year, Williams has learned how to read defenses and has a good grasp of head coach Rich Kotite's offense. "But even now I'm learning things that are going to make me better."
Williams is careful not to get ahead of himself in what is still a very young professional career. He is quiet and unassuming and clearly the less flashy half of the Eagles' second-year receiving .. tandem. Fred Barnett, a second-round draft pick, said he and Williams became friends as rookies because they both had the )) same work ethic.
"We made each other better," Barnett said. "After they cut some receivers last year, we were about to have the responsibility of taking on the wide receiver job. It was kind of scary at first. But we came through, and did some things a lot of rookies couldn't do."
Barnett averaged 20 yards a catch for his 36 receptions with eight touchdowns. Williams' numbers were 37 receptions for 602 yards and a 16.3 average gain. His nine touchdowns ranked third in the NFL behind Rice's 13 and Rison's 10.
Last February, Williams broke still more ground. He bought a two-story brick Colonial-style home in Woodstock, a rural community in western Baltimore County.