Close-Knit Duo

The days quickly go by for a very busy Hafis Williams.

He wakes up early in the morning to make it to school by seven. Williams leaves Elizabeth (N.J.) High at 2:15 p.m., but most week days, he has to be at his pretty much full-time job at Wal-Mart by 3 p.m. He gets off at 11.

Not much time to lounge in between.

"It bothers me a little bit, but not that much," Williams said. He is contemplating wrestling this season. "I just like to keep myself better. Plus, there is nothing on the streets, plus it's cold out there."

While most high school students would be using their employee discount regularly, or buying up the latest designer gear, or hitting up a Best Buy or Circuit City for the hot new electronic device, Williams is pushing a lot of his paycheck on his reluctant grandmother. You see, Ernestine Williams has raised Hafis Williams into the man he is today, and he'll do anything for her.

"My grandmother doesn't want me to, but I do anyways," Williams said. "She pays the rent and I pay everything else, electric, water and stuff."

It's been just the two of them since Williams was six years old. So, while Williams is excited for the day he leaves home for the summer to report to Notre Dame football conditioning, he's also bittersweet.

The comforting factor, is that Ernestine Williams knows her baby is going to an amazing place.

When the 6-foot-3, 280-pound (he confirmed this) Williams made an unofficial visit to Notre Dame over the summer, his arthritic grandmother was unable to attend. So on Tuesday, Irish assistant coach John Latina brought Notre Dame to her.

The three of them met at Elizabeth High, where Latina gave a PowerPoint presentation on the University.

"Mainly he just talked to her and gave her insight about what Notre Dame was about and everything," Williams said. "He showed her what the campus looked like. She had never saw any pictures so that really helped. He explained to her what Touchdown Jesus was, what the graduation rate is for the football players, and things like that.

"She liked it. She just told me I'm going to a good looking place."

Williams is going to see that good looking place for a second time in person the weekend of the Notre Dame football banquet, Dec. 8. The nose tackle is taking his official visit, and will be flying alone for the first time in his life.

The flying thing, and meeting a bunch of new people for the first time, has Williams excited, but a little nervous. As of now, eleven other players in the Irish's top-ranked recruiting class are visiting officially as well, and a few others may drop in. Williams hasn't had the pleasure of meeting any of them yet.

"I've been flying, but I've never been flying on my own," he said. "I've flown with family members, but never just me by myself and being responsible and everything.

"I'm also just nervous to meet the people I'll be playing with. But this will give me a chance to get to know them better and see how they are and everything. I‘m real excited to get to meet the guys I'm going to be playing with the next four years."

Latina, defensive coordinator Corwin Brown, and occasionally head coach Charlie Weis, kept in touch with Williams throughout the season.

While Notre Dame was going through its own struggles on the field, Williams and Elizabeth didn't quite have the season they wanted. Coming off a state championship, the team finished 6-4. Williams wasn't sure of his stats this fall. As a junior he recorded 106 tackles and six sacks. Even more important, all three linebackers had over 100 tackles with Williams eating up the space in front of them.

"I think I played alright," he said. "I did my job and I even did more. But when you lose six senior starters on the defense, it's hard to replace that."

Williams would like to add maybe five pounds before reporting to school in the summer.

"Just do what I normally do," Williams said of his training. "Just work out in the weight room and get faster and stronger and be more aware, be more alert. The college game is faster, so I need to pick up on the game speed faster."

Brown told Williams what he's looking for out of him.

"He wants people that attack all the time, that are relentless and go after the football," Williams said. "That's me."

During Latina's PowerPoint presentation, he also showed Williams and his grandmother pictures of past National Championship rings. At some point during his collegiate career, Williams would like to show her one in person.

"With the recruiting class we got, I think it's possible," Williams said. Top Stories