He runs the 40-yard dash faster than greased lightning. He’s been called the “ultimate linebacker” by a top college football scout. He’s Super Prep’s No. 1 prize recruit in the nation.

But he’s also been arrested.

Critics claim that if UM signs Willie Williams, the team high-tails it back to the pre-Coker days of Sports Illustrated’s infamous 1995 cover “Why the University of Miami Should Drop Football.” Back to the days of felon football players and the scholarship-sucking NCAA probation. Back to 1997, to the first losing season in 18 years, when Miami went 5-6 and its prospects were about as bright as the prospects for the School of International Studies to reopen next fall.

Those critics are dead wrong.

William’s arrest record starts to wane as he gets older. He had not violated parole until the most recent charges in Gainesville, and even those – hugging a student, getting into a bar fight and setting off fire extinguishers – were more the result of drunken slip-ups than genuine criminal intent. In fact, even his spotty criminal record has reason behind it: his father died when he was 14, and he was forced to repeat a grade after a horrendous car accident in his first year of high school.

It is doubtful that your average upper-class, Abercrombie-wearing, UM Greek would be able to deal with an upbringing like that and manage to become the No. 1 recruit in the country.

Williams has a more than respectable academic record for a football player, and his backers are not only family and friends, but school teachers and administrators.

Suspending his application to UM might have been the right reaction to the initial revelation of William’s criminal record. But at second glance, Williams is about as criminal as our school mascot. Saying we should throw away his talent in light of past problems would be like saying Georgetown shouldn’t have signed Allen Iverson in 1994.

Both sides win if Williamson plays for UM next season. Coker gets to choke the criminality out of yet another college athlete and gets to ice the cake of his already-stellar defense. And Willie gets a chance. He gets a chance to jump start UM’s defensive line for 2004 and push a world-class college team to the very top, where it failed to get this past season. In the process, he will be fitted into the ethical mold of our football team, which has had very few criminal acts recorded against it in the past decade or so.

And if Williams signs on with us now, he will get a once-in-a-lifetime chance. He will have the chance to come to a top-notch university that puts the value of a quality, well-meaning student athlete ahead of unconditional judgement against some petty past crimes.