"You just gotta' go for it."
In August of 2002, the star of the American Bowl between the San Francisco 49ers and the Washington Redskins was Class of 1997 Episcopal graduate and current Assistant Athletic Director Jimmy Williams. During the matchup, which took place 7,002 miles from Baton Rouge, Williams batted away a pass, forced an incompletion and even sacked Redskins quarterback Danny Wuerffel. Williams had a great game at cornerback that day, but there was much more to the magic than simply pressuring the offense.
“If you want to win, do the ordinary things better than anyone else does them day in and day out.” Chuck Noll, Head Coach Pittsburgh Steelers (1969-91)
While Williams was only a freshman, he was wise enough to recognize that he wanted more out of life than what he saw others settling for. With both parents working long hours he also knew he needed to fill that space between the last bell of class and the time they arrived home. So Williams went for it and explored all the options available to him at Episcopal. Not only did he play football, baseball, basketball and track, but he was also in select choir, theater, ROTC and even Japanese Club. It was his unlikely interest in and skill with the Japanese language that would make him the star of the game just a few years after graduating from Episcopal. Williams was among a group of Baton Rouge students selected to participate in a six week Japanese exchange program during the summer of 1996. While there, the students stayed with several host families and were immersed in the culture. They even attended school with Japanese students. “I got to see a whole different side of the world,” says Williams, and this was only the beginning.
When Williams returned to Episcopal for his senior season, he was heavily recruited by the likes of Steve Spurrier, Urban Meyer, LSU and even the Toronto Blue Jays. But it was Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee that caught Williams’ attention. “I like Nashville and they stressed academics,” he says. With a full scholarship to one of the top academic institutions in the SEC, Williams earned his degree in human and organizational development with a minor in health and human services. He continued to excel on the football field as a Commodore, being named to the Freshman All-SEC team for his contributions as a running back and later earning All-SEC team honors for his role as a cornerback. In fact, he was so successful that he could have declared for the NFL draft early, but Williams elected to finish his degree.
“Leaders aren’t born they are made. And they are made just like anything else, through hard work.” Vince Lombardi - Head Coach Green Bay Packers
In 2001, Williams was drafted by the Buffalo Bills. After a brief pre-season stint with the Bills, he got a call from his old Vanderbilt roommate, who was playing with the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers were interested in Williams and wanted him to come to California. In his signature style of going for it, Williams embraced the opportunity and signed on with the team’s practice squad. He remembers arriving at Soldier Field for the matchup against the Bears thinking he wasn’t going to play. Unexpectedly, the coach brought Williams in and said he would, in fact, see playing time and they were actually signing him to the active squad that very morning. After the ink dried on the contract, Williams made his way to the team locker room. Inside he found a jersey with his name emblazoned upon it and it was the best feeling ever.
As a member of the 49ers, Williams made the trip to Osaka, Japan for that American Bowl in 2002. The NFL learned of Williams’ previous high school exchange trip to the city and arranged for all of Williams’ host family members to attend the game. He says they made signs and cheered. He was the star of the game. Williams was named a captain for the team that day and even called the coin toss in Japanese before kickoff. “It was all because of a class at Episcopal,” he says looking back on the experience.
Williams would go on to play for the Seattle Seahawks, the New Orleans Saints and the Houston Texans. He remembers the Seahawks experience fondly. “Nobody cared who scored as long as we scored,” he says of the camaraderie and team cohesion that existed. Williams signed with the team not long after Hurricane Katrina ravaged his home state and he says his teammates immediately began offering help and support. That teamwork and spirit of brotherhood eventually earned the squad a trip to Super Bowl XL in 2005.
“The most valuable player is the one that makes the most players valuable.”
Playing sports has always been about more than wins and losses for Williams. He simply always wanted to be a part of the team. “Once you realize how to be a good teammate playing time takes care of itself,” he says. Looking back on high school, he remembers the bus rides to and from competitions and the shared team meals. He remembers the feeling of family and the importance of the coach within that structure. “Coaches are family,” he says.
Now in 2019, Williams is happy to be a part of the Episcopal family and for the opportunity to support and guide students at his alma mater. He wants students to go for it the way he did when it comes to trying new things. “Get outside of your comfort zone more. True character gets revealed when you’re in an uncomfortable situation,” he says. That is certainly reflective of how Williams has lived his life. When he became an Episcopal ninth grader he was the only African American student in his class. While the situation could have been uncomfortable, he went for it with courage and determination and says it actually helped him learn more about himself.
Williams’ son Ace is now at his dad’s alma mater. Unlike Williams, Ace became an Episcopal Knight at three years old. Williams hopes his son takes full advantage of the variety of opportunities available to him. As for himself, Williams is taking advantage of the opportunity to focus on his wife, Chandra. With a nomadic football life, the two never had the opportunity to travel for leisure, there was no official honeymoon and there were no free summers. He says his goal now is to support Chandra in the same manner she supported him through the ups and downs of a NFL career. He says he’ll also have his hands full keeping up with young Ace.
Leave Coach Jimmy Williams a comment below.