Perhaps no player was more motivated about the start of high school football season than Justin Williams.
The workhorse Davidson Academy tailback was on the verge of breaking several “unbreakable” records last year when his quest was cut short by a season-ending knee injury.
So it was that he would break down doors (if needed, of course) to get to the field for last Friday’s Week 0 contest against Cascade High a 19-7 defeat in which he reyshed for 143 yards on 20 carries, including a 61-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter.
HIs approach the home opener Friday against Donelson Christian likely will be no different.
“He’s a special kid,” coach Bill Alexander said. “He’s worked so hard to get back to full strength, and he’s incredibly ready [for] the season.”
He certainly made quick work of his rehabilitation, in part because he wasted no time feeling sorry for himself.
“Things happen for a reason,” he said. “I stayed strong with God and prayers. I worked as hard as I could in the off-season. Dr. [Burton] Elrod, my doctor, said it was the fastest-healing ACL injury he’s ever seen.
“I’ve had so many people come up to me with encouraging words. One of the guys whom I was in rehab with at the hospital, Will Hooper, helped me get through it.”
Going into 2009, his goals were to win a state championship and, individually, the one-season state rushing record of 3,005 yards, set in 1998 by BGA’s Troy Fleming. Both faded after the mishap.
It all seemed well within his reach, given that his sophomore year (2008) couldn’t have been better. Williams led the state with 2,807 rushing yards and scored 39 touchdowns and 236 total points, which ranked third, fourth and fifth best in state history, respectively. He was a D-II Mr. Football finalist. And the Bears won the state championship.
“After the injury, all that [hope of breaking the record] was gone,” he said. “From that point on, I was on the sidelines, adding some leadership and also providing a motivational role for the team.”
Starting practice earlier this month, Williams also developed a slight tweak in his other knee. The Bears coaches held him out of contact before their first game as a precaution.
“He tweaked his ‘good’ knee, and he’s wearing a special brace,’’ Alexander, who replaced Paul Wade as head coach in April, said. “After the unbelievable 2,800-yard, 39-TD season he had in ’08, he was up to about 500 yards rushing before the injury last year. He was off to a great start.”
The injury seemed all the more unlikely given the unique timing.
“It happened on my fourth carry in the fourth game against Riverside Christian,” Williams said before a recent practice at the school in northern Davidson County.
Otherwise, the number 4 has a positive connotation for him. He wears No. 40 on his jersey and has done so dating back to one particular Saturday when he played youth football for the Old Hickory Bulldogs.
“One Saturday when I got to the game, I realized I had left my jersey [No. 3 at the time] at home,’’ Williams said. “Someone gave the jersey No. 40, and I scored seven touchdowns that day [against the Madison Titans].
“My father Mike told me, ‘You’re never going to wear anything but No. 40,’ and I certainly wasn’t going to change.”
He continued wearing that through an outstanding middle school career at St. Joseph’s and on to high school, where he often carries the ball 40 times a game.
The injury has caused some colleges to back off with a wait-and-see mindset.
“It’s caused me to go under the radar for a little bit,’’ he said, adding that MTSU, Wofford, Furman and “a few OVC schools” have shown the most interest. If he gets off to a good start, look for SEC schools to get back in the picture.
“Justin has two main goals — to help us become a better football team and try to win state, and also to make his case for playing on Saturdays [college football],” Alexander said.
As it turns out, he’s not the only one in his home who’s looking to make a comeback this fall.
Younger brother Jordan, a defensive back, suffered a broken ankle in the first preseason scrimmage last year at FRA and missed most of the season. It happened about a month before Justin’s injury.
“It is going to be great to have Justin back, along with Aubrey Dixon, as our running backs,” sophomore quarterback Zillon Porter said. “We’ve had a great summer workout, we’ve all worked hard, and I know Justin can’t wait to get started.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine anyone is looking forward to it any more than he is.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Williams said. “I’ve waited so long, too long, for this.”