Oct. 26, 2011
Where There's a "Will"iams, There's a Way
By Kyle Neaves, Asst. Director of Media Relations
Southern Miss senior linebacker Korey Williams has been here before.
With a cloud hanging over his future, he responded in the way leaders are expected to respond. With all his earthly possessions floating in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he returned to the place that meant the most to him. And with the remainder of his senior season in doubt, he remains in the film room and on the practice field, constantly working to better his football intelligence and his football team each and every day, patiently yet vigorously waiting to return. Need I remind you? Korey Williams has been here before.
Cars, clothes, pictures and memories, all were gone in the winds and rain of Hurricane Katrina. But unlike the way the water washed away his New Orleans belongings, they did not wash away his love of football, the sole constant in his life.
As a junior in high school, Williams and his family - his mother Diane and little brother Kendall - evacuated from their residence in The Big Easy to a city outside of Dallas. With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, the Williams' took up residence in the Sachse school district, one of the Dallas Metroplex's many outlying high schools. Williams starred as a member of the school's football team, earning all-district honors in his lone season with the squad, but he always felt a pull back to his hometown and high school of Edna Karr.
Sachse, unlike Karr, had a wealth of resources at their disposal. From indoor practice facilities to multiple gyms and fields, Sachse's facilities rivaled that of some of the nation's top collegiate programs while Karr was squandered in the rebuilding process after the storm. Still, for Williams, returning to his roots and the place where his heart resided was a no-brainer.
"I had so much love for my high school that I felt like I had to go back for my senior year. I had to go back and try to help to get a team together," said Williams. "I felt like the weight was on my shoulders to go back and be a leader. I just felt like I owed the school that much to go back and try to bring it a state championship. Karr means everything to me. Everything."
Williams also felt compelled to return for his head coach, Jabar Juluke, who one of the first prominent male role models in his life.
"My mother raised my brother and me," said Williams. "So, Coach Juluke was really a father figure to me. He taught me what it meant to be a man and a teammate. I have so much respect for the job he has done as a coach and a mentor. I owe a lot of my growth to him."
When the time came for Williams to head off to college, Williams deferred to the familiarity of Marquese Hill, a former star at LSU. Using Hill as a role model, the one positive thing Williams ever saw come out of his neighborhood, he committed to the Black and Gold and came to the Hub City still not sure what it meant to be a collegiate athlete, especially one at Southern Miss. He found out rather quickly.
In 2007, William's first year on campus, two of Southern Miss' most productive tacklers were on the field in Gerald McRath and Tokumbo Abanikanda. Watching them play the game, Williams saw what it meant to be a Golden Eagle.
"Gerald and Tumbo were two class act guys. When I came in, my head wasn't really focused. I have to admit. I wasn't doing everything right - in the classroom, on the field," Williams recalled. "Those were two guys I always looked up to. I thought they always exemplified what a college athlete should be, in the classroom, on and off the field. I wasn't that yet and I still had a lot of growing to do."
Under their watch, Williams became a budding star and eventually took over for McRath as the middle linebacker when he departed for the National Football League. However, Williams still points to another figure in his development as a man, not just a football player.
"I believe the best thing that ever happened to me was (linebackers coach Dave) Duggan getting hired. Any coach can come in and turn a person into a good football player but he turns football players into good men. Most coaches don't try to do that," Williams said. "He wants you to walk around and have great character. We've had great talks, and I think I've made great strides to become a better person from the time I've stepped foot on campus."
Like Williams, Duggan too suffered injuries during his senior season. When Williams got the news that he would likely miss the rest of his senior year, Duggan was the first person to call during one of the darkest moments of his life.
"Everything that I was hearing was going in one ear and out of the other. All I was thinking about was that I couldn't play my senior year out," Williams quietly recounted. "The first couple days, it was hard to sleep. I wasn't answering the phone for anyone. There were times when I felt like I let down everyone, parents, family, fans. You just feel like you let down your teammates, you let down everybody."
As he lay in bed, shades drawn, dwelling on the reality of the situation and questioning the rest of his football career, Williams recalled the sign hanging above the exit of the team's locker room with the word altruism on it.
"Altruism. The unselfish concern for others. The opposite of selfishness," Williams said as if reading directly from a dictionary. "I felt like that would be selfish of me to not be around my teammates and help anyway I can. My role has been altered but I can still reach all my goals. I can still help them reach that main goal and get a conference championship. I feel like I can still play a role in that, being a leader, helping my teammates, being there for them whenever they need me."
Williams could have taken the path often traveled. The path of despair and desertion. He could have wallowed in his misfortune and relived that play in Charlottesville, Va., over and over. Instead, he chose football. He chose to keep his eyes and heart focused on those things that he has worked his entire career. Because of that choice, Williams remains as committed to his team and his rehab as ever and is ready to begin the long journey back to the field.
"It all comes down to what I pick into the rehab process and getting myself back to form. I'm ready for it though," Williams said. "I'm ready to beat all the odds against me because it's something that I want. I want to play football after I leave here. My whole goal is to get better. But, I don't know what could prepare you for a moment like this. I love football and I love my team."
With that sort of passion, it is no surprise that during film sessions, Williams is always present. During practice, he stands near his linebacking corps, watching them go through drills. Watching him at practice, you can still catch him from time to time lean forward as if to tackle a ghost, proof that you can take the player out of football but not the football out of the player.
For all the places and situations he has endured through, this is a new battle but not an impossible one. Vince Lombardi once said, "The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will."
If Lombardi is right, and will is what it takes to be successful, well then, Korey Williams has been here before.