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Williams Schools Foes with Smart Play to Win 2nd Offensive Player of the Year Award

Listening to Andre Williams talk, one can easily see why he is a godsend for public-relations directors and a nightmare for sportswriters.

Speaking in a soft voice not much above a loud whisper, Northern’s star running back uses the word “team” more often than most people use conjunctions. He thanks all the right people for his success -- his teammates, coaches, parents and, of course, God.

He talks about how important a good education is in case he suffers a career-ending injury. And whenever he fields a question about one of Northern’s football records that he broke, rather than talk about his impressive combination of size and speed (he bench-presses 380 pounds and runs a 4.5 in the 40), Williams quickly defers the credit to his offensive unit.

“The way I look at it is I may have a lot of records at Northern ... but when it comes down to it, it wasn’t just me,” said Williams, a senior. “It was my offensive line blocking, my wide receivers blocking, my quarterback checking into the right formation for me to be able to get the ball into the end zone.

“In a way, it’s a shame that only my name goes down in the book. I accept it and I like that I broke all these records and goals, but I make sure that I tell people that it wasn’t just me doing it. It was a team effort.”

Williams’ words might sound cliche, but somehow, the easy-going young man dressed in a black leather jacket and wearing a crucified-Christ pendant on his gold necklace doesn’t seem like just another athlete quoting company policy.

He knew his grade-point average (3.3) better than his yards-per-carry from this past season (8.1). And when asked which one of his records he was proudest of, the top football prospect in the state paused briefly before responding with a chuckle, “I don’t even know the records I broke.”

For the record, he is the Knights’ career leader in rushing (5,328 yards), touchdowns (74) and points (444). Included in those numbers are the 2,146 yards and 36 touchdowns this past season, numbers that earned him offensive player of the year honors from The Herald-Sun for the second straight year.

“I’d say I’m proud of all of them,” he said. “To me, the records, I’m proud of them but they really don’t mean that much right now because we didn’t reach the goal I wanted to reach [a state championship]. The records ... are a team effort. It shows how we did as a team. I didn’t get the records, it’s the team who got them.”

While Williams did not get to play in Kenan Stadium for the state title during his high school career, he’ll get plenty of opportunities to play in Chapel Hill the next four years as a member of the North Carolina football team. Williams picked the Tar Heels over programs such as Michigan State, Georgia Tech, Clemson, South Carolina and Northwestern.

“They’re committed to winning,” Williams said. “You could just tell by the facilities. I also like the education they put out there on the table. That might be one of the main reasons: the university itself. Being able to play for Chapel Hill is a childhood dream.”

That will be just one more item on a checklist of childhood dreams that have come true for Williams. Having grown up in Durham and played football at Carrington Middle School, located right down the road from Northern, Williams said he had always wanted to play for the Knights.

What he didn’t anticipate, however, was the amount of success he would have.

In fact, Williams said he was happy with just making varsity his freshman year.

Northern coach Gary Merrill, however, knew better the first time he saw Williams.

“I thought he was going to be a very good player,” said Merrill, who had known about Williams even while he was still playing at Carrington. “You could tell, even at a very young age, his athleticism was excellent for that age. Plus, when I got to know him as a person, I knew that was going to give him a real good chance to be a very good player.

“He knows what’s important and what’s not important. He can filter through all that other stuff. Some of that stuff with stats and how many yards you had, that’s some other stuff. The most important thing is getting yourself ready to play and doing what you can to help us win the football game, and that’s what he does really good.”

Williams attributes that mentality to his parents. Williams said his father, who did not play football because he could not find enough free time between school and working to help support the family, has provided him "out-of-sight" support while making sure that he doesn’t lose sight of his priorities.

“In the family I’m from, grades are first, books are first, sports are second,” Williams said. “I’m using football to have a good education at Carolina. I’m proud of that. I think my parents are very proud that I’m going to have a scholarship next year, but they always focus on grades first.

“People ask why I think the way I think and certain things I do, like my manners -- yes sir, no sir. I was raised like that. My parents instilled that in me.”

The on-the-field values instilled in Williams might be best summed up by two plaques hanging near the door in the Knights’ locker room. As he entered for a photo session, Williams smacked each of the plaques a couple of times, just like he and other Northern players do whenever they enter or exit the room.

One of the plaques read: “Play like champions.”

Some of the letters on the other sign have faded away because of the repeated beating the plaque has taken over the years, but by now, Williams knows the message by heart: “It’s amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.”