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FOOTBALL | Wolves’ legend returns to ‘give back to youths’
They lined up across from one another, sandwiched by an oversized blue medicine ball that was slapped back and forth in frantic motion.
The drill symbolized the message new Wolves’ offensive and defensive line coach Renard Williams, a 2007 South Kitsap graduate, wants to convey to his pupils.
“I’m just trying to get the guys to understand that their hands are going to be their keys to success,” Williams said. “Especially the defensive linemen. Your hands are going to tell you everything you need to know. You’re going to hear that from me all of the time.”
It marked Williams’ first time back at the lower lot practice field at South since he last suited up for the program. Since he was selected as a first-team Class 4A all-state defensive lineman as a senior by the Associated Press, Williams helped Eastern Washington University to a Football Bowl Subdivision championship in 2010 and then had NFL tryouts with Tampa Bay and Seattle.
While Williams acknowledges that success gives him cache among his understudies, being an athlete is not always glamorous. He realized that during the recruiting process when he received interest from several Pac-10 programs.
Williams said his grade-point average and SAT score were not issues, but none of those universities could admit him because he lacked some core classes.
Because he was not compliant with Proposition 48, a rule passed by the NCAA in 1983 that mandates athletes achieve certain benchmarks for GPA, SAT and credits earned in core classes, Williams was forced to redshirt in 2007 at Eastern.
“I just had to go to school and work out by myself,” Williams said. “I couldn’t really be with the team and that was tough. But I knew if I accomplished those goals, I had a full ride waiting on me and a team that I knew I could come in and help out. Those were some motivating things for me.”
Two years later, Williams appeared poised to become a future NFL draft pick when he registered 9 1/2 sacks. But those numbers dropped off during his last two seasons, which he said was a byproduct of constantly being double- and triple-teamed, and Williams went undrafted in 2012. After being released by both Tampa Bay and Seattle, Williams experienced that same result with the Canadian Football League’s Calgary Stampeders. Then, in 2013, he was cut by the Arena Football League’s Utah Blaze.
“Once I went down to the Arena League, that’s when I figured out that maybe I’m ready to no longer pursue ball,” Williams said. “It wasn’t because I didn’t think I had the ability. It was just the business aspect of it. I really didn’t appreciate that.”
Williams, 25, is reticent to discuss details. But he said he wants his pupils to realize that if he can overcome adversity of the gridiron, they can as well.
“I feel like they can look at me ... and feel like life will be all right,” he said.
Even though Williams no longer suits up, he had no desire to leave the sport. When Canton was hired as South’s coach in 2012, he called Williams to gauge his interest in joining the Wolves’ staff. But Williams said he was not ready to retire from professional football at that point. Williams said he was grateful that assistant coach Dustin Booth reached out to him via Facebook during the summer to again inquire about his interest in coaching.
“This school means a lot to me,” said Williams, who lives in Port Orchard. “This program means a lot to me.”
Which led the 6-foot-2 Williams to return to the same field where he once used his athleticism and strength to dominate teammates.
“I had my run with it and my fun with it,” Williams said. “It was time for me to give back to youths.”
Williams does not believe many of the players were aware of his athletic accomplishments. But senior Will Gatlin, who could start at both center and defensive end, said he knew of Williams’ accolades, including the plaque that commemorates all of the program’s all-state and All-American recipients that rests in a display case outside of the locker room.
“I followed him on Instagram,” Gatlin said. “His name is on the board out there. I knew who he was.”
But being a legend does not equate to successful coaching. And while Canton said Williams still is learning his new role, his work already has exceeded expectations.
“Just the way he relates to the kids, they listen to everything he says and then they do it,” he said. “That’s the trickiest part to teaching and coaching.”
Since practices began Aug. 20, Williams has stressed fundamentals, ranging from demonstrating proper hand techniques during a sled drill to individual instruction.
“I think his biggest impact would be just knowing what it takes to be the best player you can be,” Gatlin said. “I can’t wait to see where he takes me.”
To accomplish that, Williams stresses physicality or “violence” while moving at a rapid pace.
“Whenever I laced up my cleats and strapped on my chinstrap, I tried to be the best at my position,” he said. “I tried to make plays and I felt like I did that my whole career. That’s something I pride myself on.”
Canton said Williams’ work ethic is the biggest change he has seen in him. He said one reason he wanted Williams on staff was to show some of the program’s talented players the importance of maximizing their potential.
“I told Dustin, ‘These guys remind me of Renard — lots of talent, but not a lot of motivation,’ ” Canton said. “Once he became motivated he was unstoppable. I don’t want to say it cost him a pro career or anything — I think there’s a ceiling for everybody — but I think his chances may have improved if he started that part early. If we get that message across to kids ... I think they will become better people for it.”
Unlike last year’s retired professional athlete on the football staff — former minor-league infielder Jared Prince — Williams’ career path does not relate to teaching and coaching. He said he remains a “couple of math credits short of a communications degree” from Eastern that might keep him from pursuing his vision until he finishes it, though.
“I would love to get into sports broadcasting or something as a radio personality,” Williams said. “Until then, you’ll find me here just helping out the youth and giving back. I guess just find the next me.”