The 2003 Carrollton High School graduate didn’t take advantage of his initial opportunity to play at the next level, admitting he made his share of mistakes that ultimately landed himself in trouble and on the outside looking in during his prep days.
It was what it was, he figured, and life moved on.
But a historic announcement by West Georgia Technical College President Dr. Skip Sullivan on Thursday evening not only gives guys like Williams a second chance to fulfill their dreams of gridiron glory, more importantly it serves as a second chance at earning a college education.
At a press conference inside the Murphy Conference Center on the Murphy Campus in Waco, Sullivan announced the addition of football to its athletic department in front of a crowd of more than 100 spectators, which featured faculty and media members, as well as several players from the first recruiting class for the Golden Knights, including a beaming Williams.
“Right now, to actually get into school and play ball is a great opportunity. Like I said, I didn’t think I’d ever have the opportunity again to actually play ball and do what I love to do. I grew up watching it and it’s all I’ve ever done. I mean, I eat, sleep and dream football. With this program starting, not only is it good because I like the game of football, it gives me an opportunity to go back to school and further my education,” Williams said.
“That’s really what I’m looking forward to. I’ve already got a whole new life started. I’ve got kids now, and being able to go back to school and further my education, I think that will be the best part about joining this program.”
West Georgia Tech, which already has five athletic programs — baseball, softball, volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball — will play its first football game in the fall of 2014.
Sullivan noted that Thursday marked a monumental day for the college, its athletic department and, most importantly, its students.
“It is with great pleasure that I announce that West Georgia Technical College is taking a very historic step in the building of a football program that will compete as a Division I junior college program. It is not without a lot of thoughtfulness, it is not without a lot of planning, that we are at this point here at this stage of the development of West Georgia Technical College Golden Knight Division I football,” Sullivan said.
WGTC will turn to a former local star and one of its own to run the football program in athletic director Walter Dunson.
The former Central High School three-sport standout played collegiately at Middle Tennessee State before going on to the NFL after being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in 1993 and later signing a free-agent deal with the Arizona Cardinals.
Dunson said it is with great pride that he embarks on this new challenge, one he believes will be a success behind a strong crop of local talent, as well as a hotbed of players throughout the Southeast.
“There’s three things about West Georgia Tech and what I believe in and what we stand for. One is come with the right attitude. You’ve got to have the right attitude when you come here. Your attitude is going to take you a long way. If you have the right attitude, you’ll excel in the classroom, you’ll excel on the field of play. It doesn’t matter how good or how great you are. If you don’t have the right attitude, you’re not going to be successful here. The second thing is, you have to be able to commit to this program. When you commit to this program, you’re also going to commit to this school and commit to your teammates and everything that we believe here at West Georgia. If you can do those two things, you’re going to be successful here at West Georgia Tech,” Dunson said.
“Then the third thing is that we believe in operating in excellence. We want to do all the right things. And not only do the right things, but do the right things right.”
Dunson, who expects to have his staff completed by late spring, said the team will carry an 85-man roster and potentially play schools such as Georgia Military College, Chattahoochee Tech, Louisburg College (N.C.), Arkansas Baptist (Ark.), Hinds Community College (Miss.) and Pearl River Community College (Miss.) at the NJCAA level, along with Shorter University and Valdosta State University’s junior-varsity squads. He said the Golden Knights will field an 11-game schedule.
West Georgia Tech will play its home games at Heard County High School’s Staples Stadium after reaching an agreement with the Heard County School Board, which unanimously approved the decision in a vote earlier this week to allow WGTC to play in Franklin.
Heard County football coach Tim Barron believes this will create a great bond between the WGTC program and local community.
“From Heard County’s perspective, we’re awfully excited about having the opportunity to showcase a college football team in our hometown. I don’t know if many of you are familiar with Heard County — some of you are like, ‘Well, that’s a long drive from here’ — but the neat thing about it, it’s a football community,” Barron said. “There’s not a whole lot to do on a Friday night but go out and watch us play. And now they’ll have something to do on Saturday night. So we’re awfully excited about bringing them down and getting to watch those guys play and get to bring business to our community when the games come in. For us at Heard County, it was nothing but a win-win situation for our community.”
Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association Commissioner David Elder was also on hand for the historic announcement on Thursday, and he commended Sullivan and Dunson for their vision in getting the football program into fruition.
Of the 22 colleges in the state of Georgia that compete in athletics, eight are in the technical college system. Elder said there have been some major changes within junior college athletics and academics over the past decade, and he is confident WGTC is heading in the right direction.
Elder also stressed that while collegiate athletics are a wonderful thing, they do not put bread on the table or a roof over your head.
“The most important thing is the academic aspect. Collegiate athletics is just a by-product of the whole experience,” Elder said. “I try to tell people it’s like taking a piece of pie. The athletic part of it is one piece of the pie. It gives students the opportunity to experience something that most students, once they get through high school, they no longer play athletics. Athletics is a privilege, not a right. So we want our kids, first and foremost, to be successful in the classroom.”
It’s something Sullivan reiterated, noting that if athletics can steer potential students into school and getting an education, then it’s a more than worthy endeavor.
“If we can dangle the carrot and say come play football and learn a skill, get a degree, get a diploma and get some certificates so that you can become employed, I’m OK with that,” Sullivan said. “It is an exciting time for us.”
Tim Glanton, head football coach at South Paulding High School, was another panel member that spoke on Thursday to offer a prep perspective. He noted that the WGTC program could become a treasure for student-athletes that need a little extra time getting their academics in order before going to a four-year institution. And with Georgia Military College being the only other Division I junior-college program in Georgia, Glanton said some players get passed by simply due to the numbers game.
“From a high school coach’s standpoint, I think that this is an awesome thing that [WGTC] is doing here. Right now, if I’ve got a kid at South Paulding High that may be a little short on his academics, his test score or whether it’s his GPA, that kid right now has got one option — and that’s Georgia Military,” Glanton said. “A lot of times, Georgia Military, when they get a lot of kids placed in that situation ... if Georgia Military is full and they’re not really recruiting a certain position, now that kid’s got to go to Kansas, he’s got to go to Mississippi. There’s a lot of Iowa-type JUCOs, as well. So that kid’s got to take an eight, nine-hour trip and he’s got to go out of state.”
Nicholas Winters, a 2007 Carrollton High graduate, initially went that route, going to Jacksonville State right after high school and then playing at a junior college in California before returning home. The defensive lineman said getting a chance to play right here in the west Georgia area is a special one.
“Being a part of this first recruiting class at West Georgia Tech, it means a lot to me to be back out here playing. I’ve been through a lot, in out and of college, and this gives people a chance to showcase their skills,” Winters said.
Fred Shackleford is another former Carrollton student that intends to make the most of his second opportunity at an education and playing football. The running back/cornerback said it’s an honor to be a part of the inaugural WGTC recruiting class.
“I got in some trouble when I was in school, but now I have a second chance to do what I got to do to make a way. So I’ve got to take full [advantage] of my chance to go somewhere,” Shackleford said.
Jastin Trice, a 2005 Bowdon High School graduate, went to community college in Alabama out of high school, and the former Red Devil is embracing the right to now call himself a Golden Knight.
“The challenge will just be to get everybody to come as a unit, really. With the first year and everybody doesn’t know everybody, so the big challenge is just to get everybody to be one as a unit and be a family. I’m excited and looking forward to it,” Trice said.
And after everything he’s been through, Williams is counting his blessings to see his football dreams finally come full circle. Now it’s a matter of making the most of that second chance.
“It’s going to be a challenge getting everyone together and on the same page. But knowing that Walter Dunson is coaching, anything is possible. I’m ready for it,” Williams said.