Williams Upholds Sprint Football's Legacy on the Field and in the Classroom
Nov. 5, 2013
This student-athlete feature was recently published in the Oct. 26 Navy-Pittsburgh football game program.
By Alex Lumb
Navy Sports Information
"Anything that he puts his mind to, he will get it."
Williams entered his senior year on the edge of attaining a strong post-graduation placement, a 36th Collegiate Sprint Football League championship for his team and the school record for career rushing yards. None of these accomplishments were in the forefront of the running back's mind when he arrived in Annapolis as a plebe in the summer of 2010.
Growing up in Roanoke, Va., Williams prided himself on his multi-sport prowess as a youth. Once high school began, his focus narrowed to just football and wrestling with the latter being his chosen forte.
"I saw myself competing collegiately in wrestling," said Williams. "I put a lot of time into wrestling. Qualifying for states and finding success just proved my hard work was paying off. I never imagined playing football in college."
Williams' collegiate playing career path would quickly veer to football after a standout senior season at Hidden Valley High School. As a senior, he earned one of two running back spots on the Virginia AA All-State Team after amassing 2,525 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns in his first full year as a starter.
Between an early attraction to the Naval Academy as a youth and a desire to continue playing football following a strong senior season, the choice became clear for Williams.
"I had my mind set on Navy all through high school and then when I had a really good senior year and schools started asking me for visit, I told them I want to go to Navy, whether I played football or not," said Williams.
Williams initial attraction to the Academy came from his uncle, Craig Williams, who is a 1983 graduate.
"I looked up to him when I was young," said Williams. "He's always been a role model in my life and because of that I always wanted to go to the Academy."
A strong student at Hidden Valley, Williams was accepted academically into Navy without being a recruited athlete. He hoped to continue his playing career by walking on the football team, but his football future changed upon his arrival at Navy.
"The coaching staff suggested that I play sprint football as a freshman and then look into trying out in the spring," said Williams.
Williams embraced this newfound opportunity and aimed to make the most of it. Sprint football was an activity that he knew from his older brother, Matt, who was a junior on the squad.
"I was excited to play sprint and have the opportunity to play with my brother again," said Williams. "It was an awesome experience. The transition was easy. Football is still football and I was back playing with my brother."
Williams had a variety of mentors who aided his early success both in and out of the classroom at Navy. He could call upon his brother, coaches and teammates at any time as a plebe to help him as he made the transition to life as a midshipman.
"Having a brother here was a big help because I had seen some of what midshipmen do on earlier visits," said Williams. "Though he was so nonchalant in explaining some things, I'd occasionally get hit in the face with unexpected aspects of life at the Academy."
Williams also pointed out how the unique setup of the coaching staff in sprint football was influential in his transition.
"The majority of the coaches just graduated from the Academy in the prior spring," said Williams. "Most played football, whether it be sprint or varsity during their time here, so they understand what its like to be a freshman and what steps you should take to be successful in school as an athlete and as a midshipman."
Being an all-state player in high school carried little clout, as Williams would find out in his freshman year when he had to fight for playing time at running back behind veterans Jordan Foley, D.J. Hooper and Marty Meehan.
"The first year was a little frustrating as I came in here hoping to play with the varsity team and then I thought that going to sprint I'd play a lot even as a freshman," said Williams.
Adapting to this new situation was key in Williams' eventual freshman success, as well as with his long-term career.
"I would've liked to play more" said Williams of his freshman season, "but whenever I got the opportunity, I wanted to show the coaches what I could do."
This positive outlook and subsequent on-field success would be noticed as Williams earned an honorable mention All-CSFL nod at the end of the 2010 season, as well as the John S. Degan Award as Navy's Most Outstanding Freshman. He finished his plebe year with a team-high seven touchdowns, including three versus Army with the CSFL championship on the line.
Williams' continued to work hard both on and off the field and it showed during his sophomore campaign when he rushed for a program-record 1,152 yards in the team's six-game season. Behind his eight touchdowns and 192 yards per game average, he was named the 2011 CSFL MVP.
Always humble, Williams credits his coaches and offensive line for the success and accolades he received in 2011.
"The coaches had me in a steady role and it helped me get into rhythm easier," said Williams. "We had a real experienced offensive line and they'd open huge holes and it made by job real easy. They deserve all the recognition that came with the MVP award, not me."
His sophomore year was not without a hiccup as Williams suffered an MCL injury late in his final game of the year versus Army. Though no surgery was needed, he was given his first glance into the rehabilitation process of knee injuries.
That injury and rehabilitation would be an eerie precursor to how his junior season would unfold.
In the second quarter of Navy's first game of the 2012 season versus Coppin State, Williams' year was finished with a torn ACL. For the first time in his playing career, whether it be at the youth, high school or college level, Williams was on the sidelines and unable to play.
"It was definitely a struggle. I was in the training room three-plus hours every day doing rehab and icing, just trying to get healthy to ensure that I'd be able to play as a senior," said Williams.
Not willing to accept his fate as an injured benchwarmer, Williams kept his head up and began mentoring the team on the sidelines for the rest of 2012.
"Being injured helped me to gain a new appreciation for football and a different perspective on how to lead a football team because I could no longer lead by example. I had to take a different approach to things" said Williams.
Lake also recognized this change in Williams after his injury.
"You could hear him on the sidelines talking to running backs," said Lake. "I specifically remember him talking to Alex Horton at Mansfield and telling him to `get your eyes up, see the hole.' Just that little bit of coaching helped Alex set the program record with five touchdowns in a game."
The leadership Lake saw out of Williams as an injured junior cemented his thought that he would be a natural choice for team captain as a senior. The coach's hope was confirmed in the off-season after a vote by his teammates named Williams a 2013 co-captain with defensive back Brendan West.
"It's a huge honor to be named team captain," said Williams. "I wasn't sure that would be a role the team would entrust in me after not seeing my on-field performance. I had always hoped to be a team captain. I was definitely emotional when named to that position."
Entering his senior season as a team captain with a clean bill of health and just 310 yards away from breaking Chris Butler's 31-year old program record of 1,811 career rushing yards, Williams was focused not on individual accolades, but team glory.
"I've never thought about records," said Williams. "My intentions are never individual or stat based. It's just to win every game and put the team in the best position to win the championship. If I happen to break a record so be it. It's a title, not necessarily a team goal."
After two injury scares in the prior two years, the quest for Butler's mark was unfortunately sidetracked twice more as a senior due to knee ailments.
In exhibition action versus Coppin State on Sept. 6, Williams felt his knee buckle and immediately braced for the worse. Though originally fearful of an ACL tear, the tests came back negative and gave Williams a second chance to play as a senior.
Then on Oct. 10 at Post, Williams' season and career came to a conclusion with a horrific helmet-on-knee tackle leaving him just 156 yards shy of the program record.
"It was a disappointing way for my senior season and career to end," said Williams. "Everyone wants to go out on their own terms, but I have no regrets and will look back fondly at my playing career. I have confidence in my teammates to finish the season strong."
Though his playing career is over, Williams recognizes the standard that he must help his teammates uphold.
"There's not extra pressure on us to win; its an expectation and a standard," said Williams. "The legacy is not ours, but ours to uphold."
Williams' success on the field has been mirrored nearly flawlessly with what he has attained in the classroom as a double major in international relations and economics.
"The way he attacks football is the same way he attacks academics and the same way he attacks life in general," say Lake. "The way he balances his life and with the results he gets is really special."
Williams began his academic career as a political science major through which he developed an interest in international politics. This interest led to him discovering a new opportunity which he vowed to make the most of.
"When I found that I'd have the opportunity to do graduate studies overseas, I thought I can relax and keep my current academic load or work a little bit harder and pick up economics as a second major," said Williams. "It was an easy choice for me."
With an Overall Order of Merit standing that ranks amongst the best in his class, Williams is looking forward to the possibility of attending graduate school at either Oxford or Cambridge.
"If I can earn a graduate school scholarship, I'll have to opportunity to study aboard and gain an international perspective that not many military officers get the chance to receive.
I've put a lot of time into academics and I've put myself in a very good position academically and order-of-merit-wise. I'm fearful that if I relax I could lose all that I have worked for," said Williams of his quest for excellence.
With his education from the Naval Academy and the potential for international graduate studies, Williams aims toward becoming a Marine Corps foreign area officer in Latin America. Specifically he hopes to work with countries to assist in their cooperation with the United States on defense issues.
Lake sees no reason that Williams will not succeed in his chosen field and, in fact, sees endless future possibilities for his senior captain.
"With his past successes as a blueprint for what he is going to do, we can expect big things from David Williams," said Lake. "You can guarantee that he is going to use his education to benefit other people. I look forward to seeing his name in the newspaper 15, 20 years down that line, `David Williams wins the Nobel Peace Prize.' It's a possibility. That's the kind of expectations I have for someone like David. He steps up to the plate every time."