Even though he is 6-1, 215 pounds, ran a 4.6 in the 40-yard dash, has a 3.0 grade point average and even looks a little like former University of Miami linebacker Sean Spence, Dillard linebacker Josh Williams has had a tough time drawing college football scholarship offers.
As of Friday afternoon, he only had one from a Football Bowl Subdivision school: the Marshall Thundering Herd.
“I’ve gone to a lot camps, played for the South Florida [7-on-7] Express team and a lot of schools tell me they like me — Miami, Florida State, FIU,” Williams said. “But they all want to see what I do my senior year.”
First-year Panthers coach Lorenzo Davis, a former star receiver at Dillard and Youngstown State who spent a season with the Pittsburgh Steelers, believes “it will only be a matter of time before everyone else” latches onto Williams.
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“He’s just a good student, a great character guy,” Davis said. “He picks up his teammates when they’re down, steps to them in a positive way. He says ‘I believe in you.’ He wants to be good. And he wants us to be good. He’s one of the leaders were counting on to help us start turning things around.”
The Panthers, who haven’t had a winning season since they last made the playoffs in 2008, don’t have much in the way of returning experience. Only three starters are back on offense. Tailbacks Dre’Sean Nelson (5-7, 165, offers from Southern Alabama, Bethune-Cookman) and Eldred Oates (6-1, 215, offer from Florida A&M) are the stars.
Defensively, four starters are back. Williams, projected as an outside linebacker at the next level, will be in the middle of Dillard’s defense most of the time. After racking up 50-plus tackles and three sacks playing both defensive end and outside linebacker for the 3-6 Panthers last season, he’s moving to middle linebacker this season.
“He’ll be in the middle a lot, but we’ll also put him to rush the quarterback every now and then at end. He’s really tough to block,” Davis said. “He is the heart of our team.”
And heart is something Williams knows a lot about.
His mother passed away when he was only six years old because of a heart condition. Williams, who is being raised by his grandmother and uncle, said he himself had heart surgery when he was in the fifth grade.
“My mom was born with a hole in her heart,” Williams said. “I pretty much had the same thing. I had a heart murmur and when the doctors figured out what it was I had to have surgery.
“Every time I go out on the field, I put my hand over my heart and think of her. She’s who I play for.”
Williams said his father, Henry, a former star defensive end on Dillard’s 1989 state championship team and 1990 state runner-up team, isn’t very involved in his life. But his father is whom he gets his athleticism from, Williams said.
“I know he had a bunch of offers, but ended up having to go JUCO,” Williams said. “He just made some bad choices. I don’t want to follow those steps. I’ve got to make it.”
Williams said he recently scored a 1,000 on the SAT and a 16 on the ACT. He wants to raise both scores to “at least 1,500 on the SAT and 20 on the ACT.”
“I’ve got a big senior year in front of me,” Williams said. “I have a lot of opportunities I have to try and take advantage of.”