The Fall of Willie Williams: College Football’s First Celebrity Recruit (Part 1)
BY: John “Hennry” Harris
On this National Signing Day, thousands of high school student-athletes are making the biggest decision of their lives in choosing the college to take their talents to and earn their degrees. It is quite easy for these athletes to achieve fame with all of the ESPN coverage, youtube.com videos, and huge corporate-sponsored games and training exhibitions.
These high school students are the toast of the town and have their favorite collegiate teams clamoring over them. What they do not realize is this little courting period is coming to an end and once they sign that ONE year full grant-in-aid scholarship that is renewed yearly, not the full ride scholarship as advertised, their performance on the next level will determine how much the school they choose is truly committed to them.
Willie Williams was one of the nation’s top recruits in 2004 and labeled “the next Lawrence Taylor”, went from wearing No. 17 for the Miami Hurricanes to uniform number 253203 inside the Eastern Kentucky Correctional Complex serving a 15-year sentence. Willie Williams’ story is one of chances, lack of accountablility and highlights how much support a player truly gets when colleges feel that they can not get anything from you.
Willie Williams was a charismatic, raw talent and one of the best athletes many coaches had ever seen. On the field, Williams was unstoppable, recording 173 tackles and 10 sacks on his way to earning Defensive Player of the Year in Miami-Dade County for Class 3A-1A.
“How good was he?” asks Joe Zaccheo, Pace’s coach. “He was probably the best ever at that position. The kid came to me at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds, and the first time I put a clock on him he ran a 4.3 40. I said, ‘Get the hell out of here! Do it again!’ He did it again. And again. The kid was just a freak.”
Off the field, he shined bright under the lights and had an inner charm that surpassed his peers.
“He was entertaining, he was funny, he was smart,” says Manny Navarro. “You spoke to him, and you knew you were in for a treat.”
Willie Williams was so popular that the Miami Herald gave him a segment during his recruiting process where he would keep a diary and report about his recruiting trips, giving an insight into the process virtually unknown to the regular public.
Willie was good, actually Willie was great! But Willie had some off-the-field issues that would follow him all the way to the prison cell. Even though still in high school, Willie Williams had no playing eligibility left.
As a freshman in high school, Williams was struck by a vehicle while crossing the street. It landed him in the hospital for a month and he missed 90 days of school, including the entire football season. The Florida High School Athletics Association does not have a “redshirt” process available like in college and he transferred to Carol City High with the hopes that Jeff Paris, the school’s athletic director, could find a way to make him eligible.
“When I met Willie, I knew he had a strong case,” Paris told the Herald at the time. “This was a kid that got hit by a car in the face during his freshman year of high school. He deserves a shot at playing four years of high school ball.”
To the shock of many, the FHSAA agreed to allow Williams’ to play an extra year for Carol City, the state’s top ranked team in Florida’s largest class, 6A.
When these schools or athletic teams feel that they can get something from you, it is amazing how “exceptions” can be made. Continuing the story of Willie Williams you will see how many “exceptions” he was granted because of his football skill and how that handicapped him as a man who had to deal with the “real” world once the game was over.