LaQuan Williams: A Story of Second Chances

How the fifth-year senior rebounded on and off the field.

There were times where Williams’ football career at Maryland looked all but over. Multiple injuries and struggles off the field plagued the wide receiver’s career, almost prompting him to give up football altogether.

Sunday, however, Williams will wear a combat helmet as his Terps storm out of the tunnel against the Miami Hurricanes – a testament to the battle he has triumphed through the past five years

The combat helmet is an award given out by special teams coordinator Charles Bankins awards to the biggest contributor on his unit following a victory. And after what can only be described as Maryland’s most important win of the season, a blocked punt on the first quarter set the tone for the game in the Terps dominated.

“I’ve just been trying to work hard every play, every second, every down, every practice,” Williams said.

In 2007, as a redshirt freshman, Williams earned Atlantic Coast Conference All-Freshman honors after racking up 217 receiving yards in just seven starts. The potential was clear, and it was all but certain Williams would become one of the team’s dynamic weapons in the passing game. Two injuries to his left foot in 2007 and 2008, however, left Williams to a smaller role.

A meeting between him and head coach Ralph Friedgen in May of this year determined Williams seeing an increased role on special teams. Friedgen’s logic: a consistent, efficient, productive special teamer can make the team better.

In an effort to improve his team, Williams embraced the opportunity.

“It came down to knowing my role and making the best out of the opportunities I’m given. Whenever I’m put on the field I want to stand out,” Williams said, adding that he can still have an impact on the final score. “The special teams determine who wins the game.”

As a high school athlete, Williams thrived on the defensive side of the ball. He played safety, cornerback and linebacker for Baltimore Polytechnic Institute before converting to wide receiver his second year.

But rekindling his defensive prowess helps him to bring an unmatched tenacity to special teams, which is becoming more and more contagious on this Terps team, especially among the wide receiving core – a feat not many other colleges in the country can take claim to.

“We all compete within special teams to see who is going to have the most plays, who is going to stand out the most. You can put us anywhere and we’re going to stand out,” Williams said. He lightheartedly suggested that he and his peers are in the midst of a competition to make the most plays, and he and Emani Lee-Odai grappling for the top spot.

This was not always the case for Williams though. The aforementioned foot injuries were only exasperated by academic ineligibility in the winter of 2009 and personal issues. As problems piled up, it became harder and harder to persevere.

“There were definitely times where I thought ‘I’m not going to make it,’ When I was going through my whole injury phase there was a point where I was like ‘I don’t know if it’s worth doing this. My body is going through too much,’” Williams admitted, “but my love of the game kept me pushing forward.”

Williams credited his family and the Maryland coaching staff for keeping him focused and helping him to remain on the right path. His mother, in particular, was a tremendous source of encouragement, telling her son that before his break comes, he would have to last through the tough times.

When he returned to the team, he found himself relegated on the depth chart behind the likes of Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, two Terps receiver who had emerged in his absence. His on- and off-field struggles soon became intertwined. As a result, his schoolwork suffered.

“I was letting the stress from football bother my life off the field. Now it’s the opposite – I’m going to let my life contribute to football so it’s my fun,” Williams stated proudly.

A 2-10 season, more than anything else, proved to be the wake-up call Williams needed to change his life. The all-time worst record in school history was the losingest season by a team that Williams had been a part of since the onset of his football career at five years old.

In his first three collegiate seasons, the Terrapins won two of the three consecutive bowl games they played in. He even reminisced of his national championship-winning Pop Warner teams. What happened in 2009 was foreign for Williams.

“I’ve never been on a team that I lost so many games. Last season was like the worst year of my life and I just told myself it wasn’t going to happen to me again,” he said.

As Williams’ struggles in the classroom became more apparent, he claimed a light bulb simply turned on in his head, making it clear he needs to “buckle down” and “be on the right path.”

“I need to get my life together; I need to be going in the right direction,” he added.

Williams did just that, straightening out his struggles in the classroom, putting himself on pace to graduate in May and earn a degree in American studies. On the football field, he emerged as a special teams captain, but more importantly a player his coach could rely on and help guide the others on the team.

Friedgen professed that it is players with the caliber of heart that Williams possesses is the reason why he enjoys coaching. He said that when he looks for a good football player, he is interested in how motivated they are to be successful, not only in football but also in life.

“He’s on a mission right now to graduate. He wants to change his environment; he wants to change his life. He’s enjoying this success – not only on the football field,” Friegen said following the team’s win over Wake Forest on Homecoming. “I’m a huge fan of LaQuan Williams right now. I’m very proud of him – what he’s doing and where he’s going with his life.”

Come springtime, Williams will find out where his next step in the path of redemptions. According to ESPN’s Scout’s Inc., Williams is a borderline draft prospect in which teams might be willing to take on – in other words, a diamond in the rough. He sits at 114th among wide receivers.

Regardless of whether or not professional football is an option, Williams proclaimed his desire to join the air force after college. Although he has no actual flying experience and has yet to see “Top Gun,” he has always wanted to be a pilot and be a part of the military – something he believes can offer structure in his life.

Until then, Williams can continue to enjoy his success as a Terp. His team will once again look forward to a bowl game at the conclusion of their season. And whether it is a one-handed catch for a touchdown, a tackle on the kickoff coverage or simply a partially blocked punt, Williams is just happy to be a reason for the turnaround.

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