The Cincinnati Bearcat football squad got some unexpected but much needed help at defensive tackle when John Williams contacted Butch Jones earlier in the summer about transferring to the University of Cincinnati. Even though Williams had already played four seasons in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, his senior year was cut short due to a knee injury. No one was optimistic the NCAA would grant the Miami Central graduate an extra year of eligibility since he played in the fourth game of the year in 2011, but trying to predict what the NCAA will do is as difficult as trying to predict the stock market, and the former CMU star was unexpectedly granted a fifth year of eligibility.
Since Central Michigan had already awarded its 85 scholarships, Williams thought it might be interesting to reunite with the man that recruited him to the Mid-American Conference school five years earlier, and because an NCAA rule allows fifth year graduates to play immediately as long as they get accepted into graduate school, UC was a viable option.
The 5-foot-11, 285 pound nose tackle recalled the beginning of his relationship with Coach Jones.
“I had a lot of MAC schools looking at me, but the guy that offered me was Coach Jones at Central Michigan,” he said. “I committed going into the spring of my senior year. I later participated in some high school all-star games, and some big schools liked me, but they complained about my height so I stayed true to my commitment to Central Michigan.”
Despite being considered too short by many FBS coaches, Williams played in 35 games for the Chips and started in 28 of those contests making 94 career stops. He started all fourteen games at nose tackle when the Jones coached Chippewas (12-2) won both the MAC title and the GMAC Bowl in 2009. Those good times served as part of the impetus for him to contact Coach Jones.
“I called him up and said I got a medical redshirt from the MAC Conference, and I wanted to play for him,” said Williams. “I told him that he made me into a man and a man of God. I love the way he coaches. I told him I’d be happy just to walk-on, and he found a spot for me.”
That kind of loyalty is nothing new for Williams.
“I’ve known my wife since I was twelve or thirteen years old,” he said. “It was puppy love at first, but our relationship started with us being best friends. Then she got pregnant when we were still in high school.”
Understandably, Williams’ life and future plans started to change. He even thought about giving up football to care for his child (Jylin).
“God does things for a lot of different reasons, and there are a lot of bad distractions in Miami (FL) so I took the ASVAB test. I was still in the tenth grade, and I knew my height was going to be a factor regarding my future in football so I was going to go to the army because I knew I couldn’t take care of my family in that Miami environment. Thankfully, Coach Jones was able to see a diamond in the rough, and I owe him my life. Coach Jones and his staff taught me how to work and how to be a man. I obviously did some work too, but I’m going to have a master’s degree when my football career is over.”
In 2008, the Miami Central grad had to leave his girlfriend and child behind when he went to Mt. Pleasant. Central Michigan had a rule that students had to live on campus for two years, but Coach Jones and Williams struck a deal.
“Coach Jones told me that he first wanted me to get acclimated to college, but if I got a good GPA and did well on the field, he would see if I could bring my family up and move off campus. I did everything he asked me to do, and he kept his word. My family moved on campus for the 2009 year.”
Although they lived together since 2009, Williams and his wife, Kim, tied the knot on September 25 of last year in front of family, friends and teammates, the same teammates that voted him to be one of their captains last season.
Coach Jones is known for staying in contact with many of his former players, but an unexpected conversation a year ago took their relationship to a new level.
“I was raised with my five sisters, and one of them was murdered in Miami while I was in college,” said the burly nose tackle.
As his eyes welled with tears, he continued. “It happened about a year ago, and Coach Jones was down in Miami recruiting when he heard about it. He didn’t have to call me, but he did.”
As tears rolled down his cheeks, Williams fought through the emotions.
“He told me that he loved me, and if there was anything he could do, to let him know. He told me to keep my chin up. It was powerful for that guy to call me. He showed the kind of person he is.”
Williams is the first in his family to get a college degree, but that surely won’t be his greatest accomplishment in life.
“I have a passion to help people. I graduated from Central Michigan with my sociology and youth studies degree and child development degree. I had a double major. I’ll be getting my master’s degree in criminal justice. Coming from the inner-city, I want to give back to those kids. I was fortunate to make it out, and my dream is to have a place like Camp Higher Ground where kids can come have a meal, a place to stay and have people talk to them and teach them about life, religion, school, jobs and what it means to be a man.”
John Williams knows about all those things, especially the part about what it means to be a man.
The Tyrell Byrd look-alike may or may not have a great year for the Bearcats, but one thing is certain, he’ll play from snap to whistle, and he’ll “Represent the C” in a positive way both on and off the field of play.
When our interview concluded, Williams immediately apologized for breaking down when talking about his sister’s death and about his close relationship with Coach Jones, but I was grateful to see the honest emotion. So often in this business, questions are answered with hollow clichés, but John Williams spoke from the heart, and that’s part of what makes him so special.