In early 2005, the anticipation was rising inside Gadsden’s Convention Hall. It is almost time for the highlight of a day-long workshop for residents of public housing.
“There he is,” someone said. Cadillac Williams, an All-America Auburn running back, was walking toward the door. He stopped to do a television interview. Before he could get to the door, he signed numerous autographs. Cadillac had come home.
Williams had quickly accepted when he was asked to speak at the workshop. These were his people, especially the young ones. One of Sherry Williams’ six children, he lived in public housing as a child. After his parents split up, he saw his mother work three jobs to try to make ends meet. He knew their struggles, and he knew what they wanted most.
“My mom was one of those parents who was willing to do anything and everything for us,” Williams said. “My sisters had to take care of the house while she worked. That’s where I got my work ethic. I would see my mom work all the time and how she would be tired. I used to always tell her ‘Mom, one day, I am going to build you a house and get you off your feet.’”
Williams succeeded in doing that. He became an Auburn icon, was the fifth player picked in the 2005 NFL draft and played for seven seasons in the NFL. He returned to Auburn as running backs coach in 2019. And now he’s Auburn’s interim head coach, the first African-American to lead Auburn’s football program. His wife, Evan, and their sons, Cole and Cuin will be there to cheer him own.
Auburn lost Williams’ first game, but the effort and the enthusiasm on display as the Tigers rallied from a 24-3 deficit to force the game at Mississippi State into overtime was something to see. Saturday, he will lead the Tigers onto Pat Dye Field to play Texas A&M at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The game is sold out. Cadillac, the coach, has been embraced by Auburn people.
“That is why I chose this place, this institution two decades ago, because of that same love that you feel from the Auburn family,” Williams said. “They embraced a kid like me that had a dream to take care of my mom, to change the trajectory of my family.”
On that day in 2005, Williams had recently finished his Auburn career. The NFL and the realization of a little boy’s dream beckoned.
“I know times are tough, and I understand the environment you are growing up in,” Williams told the crowd. “Just stay focused. Keep God first and stay focused in life.”
Williams spent more than an hour signing autographs. He posed for pictures. He did it all for the children.
“When I was young, I saw the guys on TV,” Williams said. “I was like ‘Man, I wish I could be like them.’ I would have loved for one of those guys to come up and talk to me.”
At Etowah High School in nearby Attalla, Williams was a hero long before he was an All-American at Auburn. Michael Williams, his older brother, saw it even before that.
“Michael used to take us out to the park and play tackle football,” Williams said. “At first, when guys would tackle me, they would just kind of grab me and put me down. He would say ‘No, no, no. He’s not a little boy. Hit him like everybody else.’ I think that is where I got my toughness.”
Williams was 11 when he played organized football for the first time for the Attalla Roadrunners. And he quickly gave a glimpse of what was to come.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Williams said. “I tried out for the team, made it and took it from there. I was a running back and wore No. 24. I think I scored like 40 touchdowns that first year.”
By his freshman year at Etowah, Williams was playing on the varsity, though he had to wait his turn behind Derrick Nix, who would go on to stardom at Southern Mississippi. Raymond Farmer, then the Etowah coach, became a major influence in his life.
“It’s a blessing that I was around the kinds of coaches that pushed me as a player,” Williams said. “I have talked to other players, and their coaches didn’t even make them practice. Coach Farmer treated me like I was Joe Blow.”
Farmer knew that Williams was no Joe Blow. After Williams’ freshman year, Farmer called him in for a talk.
“He told me he had never coached a player like me, with my attitude and skills,” Williams said. “He said if I continued to work hard and do everything full-speed, I could be one of the best players in the nation. Ever since then, I’ve just been a worker.”
Williams had one of the great careers in Alabama high school history, rushing for more than 6,000 yards. He was one of the nation’s hottest prospects, but for those who knew him best he was still the little boy with the friendly smile, loyal son, brother and friend.
Sherry Williams encouraged her children to be active, but academics came before sports and faith and family came first.
“I was the kind of parent that if you don’t get your books, you can’t play,” his mother said. “I was not going to have an airhead out there running the ball.”
As signing day neared in 2001, Williams struggled to decide where he would go to college. He had grown up an Alabama fan, but others had made more of an impression. In January, he visited Tennessee and was overwhelmed. He returned home and told his parents he was going to be a Vol.
Auburn coaches were scheduled for an in-home visit the following week. Williams called assistant coach Terry Price, who had recruited him, and gave him the bad news. “Tennessee is the best place for me,” he told Price. “I’m through with the process, so don’t call me anymore.”
Price told him he was going to call head coach Tommy Tuberville and let him know. “Tell him thank you, but I am going to Tennessee,” Williams said.
Moments later, Tuberville called. Williams finally agreed to the in-home visit but told his family Tuberville was wasting his time. Tuberville arrived with most of his coaching staff. Williams, impressed, went to Auburn for a visit. He called an unhappy Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and told him he was wavering. He visited Alabama, but in the end, Auburn was the choice.
Williams suffered a broken collarbone against Alabama as a freshman. He went down in the seventh game of the season at Florida as a sophomore. Finally, as a junior, he played healthy, rushing for 1,307 yards and 17 touchdowns. He had another decision to make. He could declare for the NFL draft and become wealthy overnight or he could return to Auburn, play his senior season and get his degree.
Williams and running mate Ronnie Brown decided the NFL could wait. They returned and helped Auburn go 13-0 and win the SEC championship Even after missing eight games due to injuries, Williams finished his career with 3,831 yards and 45 touchdowns, second only to Heisman Trophy winner Bo Jackson. He earned an Auburn degree. And then Williams was off to Tampa Bay. Brown was the second player picked, going to Miami.
Even Williams doesn’t know what it will be like when he leads the Tigers out of the tunnel Saturday night. He knows it will be special.
“You can’t make this up,” Williams said. “Honestly, I don’t know how I am going to feel. I do know I have a job to do to get this team ready to play and get these guys prepared and lead these guys. I know I can’t make this about me, but I am going to stay in the moment, and I am going to enjoy it. I am excited for that moment, and I am honored.”
Credit: Source link