Cardinal fans see Dae Williams, the running back who came back from an ACL tear, the player with immense talent. However, fans probably don’t know the human being that Williams is. During Louisville media day, Williams revealed personal information that divulged character and perseverance.
Williams’ faith, mental fortitude, and the lessons he learned from people from his hometown is what led to his success. A few athletes prior to Williams made it out of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, but bollixed their opportunities to further their education and ended up back home. Being able to witness those people before him fail due to preventable mistakes helped Williams learn.
“Staying in that word helped keep me right during the injury. Every day you got thoughts in your head, you have to talk to people like Chris Morgan. Guys like that to keep positive energy.” Williams said during media day. “You know to keep it real with you, sometimes I get out the word a little bit but I always try to make sure I’m talking to God at all times. You don’t ever want to let that relationship get too far you know,” Williams stated. “I always try to make sure if I’m not in the word, I’m still praying all throughout the day, you know, when I’m showering, when I’m in the bed, when I’m eating, just trying to show him love and that I’m gracious and grateful. That is my shield that’s my source.”
Christianity is a key component to Williams’ life. He believes that his faith helped led him through trials and tribulations. Williams grew up in the church but took another step in his faith when arrive to Louisville. He met with leaders of Fellowship of Christian Athletes ministry on campus. He attest the development of his faith to Chris Morgan and FCA. The gathering of FCA occur every Monday during the school year and he usually attends after he concludes practice. The organization is an interdenominational Christian sports ministry to see the world impacted for Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes. FCA has bible study, worship sessions, along with preaching of the Christianity. Williams gave a testimony about his walk with Christ and the evolution of his faith throughout his life. As a former Louisville athlete, FCA is where Williams and I met.
As a former 2-star coming out of high school, Williams has always had a chip on his shoulder. According to Rivals, the 6-foot-1, 220 pound running back received offers from various schools around the country. Louisville and Virginia Tech were the only power five offers. Navy, Army, Eastern Illinois, Memphis and SMU extended offers early in his recruitment. He had committed to SMU going into his senior season, but later reopened his recruitment and chose Louisville.
“There’s been a few different people that came out of Sapulpa but went right back because they messed up in school,” Williams said. “Me being where I’m from, I’ve always been an underdog. I’ve never been a guy that’s expected to win or expected to make plays.”
Sapulpa is a small rural town with a population of 20,928, to put that into perspective, the University of Louisville’s student body is 22,640. Williams rise throughout high school was unprecedented. He could have been overlooked during his high school career. This could have led to falling through the cracks of high school recruiting because of the small school he played at.
According to Rivals, Williams was not a part of Oklahoma Final Top 15 in the 2016 recruiting class. According to 247sports, he was the 35th best player in Oklahoma, the 164th ranked running back in the country, and 2574th ranked overall in his high school class.
It’s asinine when you analyze his H.S. career numbers. During his tenure at Sapulpa High School, Williams accounted for 2,737 yards and 30 touchdowns. He received the Offensive Sapulpa Football Player of the Year award. Production of those merits along with the physical physique he presents would warrant more recognition from a national recruiting standpoint. However, when you’re playing in a small town, it take a special athlete to make it the next level.
Overcoming adversity has been a frequent occurrence in Williams’s life. In 2011, prior to entering high school, his cousin was shot. He was only 14 years old, and struggled trying to wrap his mind around the situation. Then, he fatally lost his best friend in 2014, which is tough on any young person to deal with. He contemplated what to do, what direction should he go. He turned the pain of losing his best friend into determination to make his best friend proud from the heavens.
Williams came to Louisville with high expectations from his hometown but redshirted his freshman year. There were people in his hometown pressuring him and questioning why he was not playing. That pressure can take a mental toll on an athlete. He did not have the answers but only knew it was a process. When the spring camp came around in 2017, the process was beginning to show signs of life and he was performing exceptionally. The Cardinals held a scrimmage on April 1, 2017 and Williams got most of the carries and ran for 4 TD’s during scrimmage. Then adversity struck again after he suffered a torn ACL during spring camp on April 12, 2017. Many thought his redshirt freshman season was over but he compelled his comeback to a part of the team for the 2017 season.
When an athlete suffers an ACL injury, it takes from 9 to 12 months to recover. Especially in this climax of collegiate athletes sitting out to preserve their body, Williams could have followed the trend. However, Williams went the opposite route during his redshirt freshman year campaign. Within seven months, he returned to action, played against Florida State, and scored his first career collegiate touchdown. This exhibited another element to Williams’ physical and mental fortitude. Williams realized that the team could have used a boost at running back and returned to assist in the Cardinals. He finished the season with 235 yards, three touchdowns on 6.2 yards per carry. The stat line isn’t Lamar Jackson running for 1600 yards but Williams was 7 months removed from a torn ACL, it’s still impressive. That gave a glimpse into William’s overall potential of being a thousand-yard running back. Although, Williams does acknowledge that rushing back may have caused his most recent ankle injury, he uses it as a learning lesson to be patient and listen to the body.
— Hunter Johnston (@RealLHunterJ) November 25, 2017
Williams has the character to be a star. The Cardinals did not make a mistake signing him. After reading this story, this should be another reason to root for him. Go cards.
Daniel Bien-Aime joined The Cardinal Connect as a contributing writer in August of 2018. He is employed by iHeartMedia and previously interned at ESPN Louisville. Daniel is a former member of the University of Louisville track & field team and is from Miami, Florida.