By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Saraland’s Ryan Williams must exhibit as much mental toughness as physical skill in the next two years to thrive while carrying a colossal target, a fellow Mr. Football said.
Williams, one of the nation’s top wide receiver prospects, is the first sophomore to be named the state’s Mr. Football and it’s possible he may never relinquish the title during his high school career, former Vigor star running back Darrell “Lectron” Williams said.
“He won Mr. Football a lot sooner than I did. He’s in the perfect position to win it three years in a row. That’s never been done,” said Williams, the 1988 honoree as the state’s premier player who went on to play at Auburn and is now a personal trainer with Lectron’s Premier Fitness in Mobile.
“Will it be easy? No. Obviously, he’s going to be wearing a target. Defenses will plan solely to stop him, sacrificing everything else to make sure he doesn’t hurt them. But that could benefit (Saraland) because they’ve got a lot of other talented players.”
Lectron Williams said he hopes Ryan Williams continues to find happiness playing a sport he dominated last season and demonstrate the maturity to navigate the demands of modern football, which can overwhelm many players.
“It seems like he’s a great kid and very level-headed. I congratulate his parents for that,” Lectron Williams said. “These are the days he needs to be enjoying it and having fun. Probably the most peace he will find the next two years is going to be on the field. It’s hard to control what’s happening before or after a game and people wanting to talk to him and touch him. And he has to deal with social media. … You want the attention to be genuine.”
Ryan Williams will face new, even unsavory challenges in his last two high school years, a fact Lectron Williams knows from his own experiences as one of the most celebrated high school players in state history.
Lectron Williams ran for 5,000 yards in his career and helped lead Vigor to back-to-back state championships in 1987 and 1988 and the ESPN national championship in 1988, the only high school team in Alabama to win one.
But Ryan Williams, who has committed to Alabama, will also have to handle the same kind of verbal and physical scorn Lectron Williams drew as a top prospect.
“We have seen the rise of Ryan Williams. Now this is the year to see how he handles it,” Lectron Williams said.
“By the time I was a sophomore, everybody knew who you are. When you get off the bus, they’re trying to get a good look at you. During warmups, you hear the whispers. The guys on the other team have got their heads turned to get a glimpse of you. Then the game starts and every cheap shot known to man is what you’re going to get. You realize, ‘Those people hate me.’ I had to develop a tough exterior and all I could do was play football and let the cards fall where they may.”
Lectron Williams said Ryan Williams can expect rough treatment and must be unfazed and even inspired by it.
“He better learn to get up really fast after all the eye-gouging and crotch-grabbing, the fingers in your eyes and your nose, the ankle-twisting and the spitting,” Lectron Williams said. “That towel I wore, I had to use it to wipe the spit off my face. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to it the next two years. Superior five-star players will get that kind of attention. He can draw fuel from it. I did.”
Even away from the field, Lectron Williams said he often attracted unwanted attention and suffered internal turmoil.
“Guys want to jump on you just walking somewhere with your friends,” he said. “They don’t realize how much pressure you’re under. I can’t speak for Ryan but the fear of losing or not doing well, for me the pressure got so great that when I didn’t perform up to my ability, I took it hard. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. That’s the added pressure you put on yourself.
“You find out a lot about yourself. You don’t know how hard you can push yourself until you get put under this kind of pressure to perform at a high level. People look at you differently because of the high standard and that happens with every athlete.”