definitely much ado about Raymond Williams of Cleveland Benedictine High School,
both on and off the football field.
By most all accounts, Williams, the runner-up for the Mr. Football award last season, is on course to becoming an academic casualty, and that could limit the viability of him becoming a scholarship candidate at some universities.
The blame, for a lack of a better word, is equally a part of the grading system at Benedictine, where an ‘A' starts at 93 as compared to 90 at most public school institutions, as it is a part of a hole that Williams dug for himself when he initially matriculated to Benedictine, coming from the East Cleveland school district where his study habits weren't as sharp as they needed to be.
After talking to some administrators and others at the Benedictine game against Cardinal Mooney, I came away with a little clearer understanding of Williams's academic situation, I think, and an even greater appreciation of his talents on the football field.
Facing a talented parochial school from Youngstown that was ranked atop their region in Division IV, the Cardinals, led by Ron Stoops, the nephew of Oklahoma's Bobby Stoops, provided a stiff challenge for the Bengals, before falling 17-0 at Bedford Stadium.
"They're a very sound football team," said Benedictine coach Art Bortnick. "They're as good as a defense that we've faced this season, I think the quarterback (Stoops) is as good as any one of the quarterbacks that we've faced and they played with a lot of intensity and a lot of determination. They came here with all intentions to give us a whale of a game and by the score at halftime (7-0), it was.
"Each team was taking their shots, but I felt that in the second half we executed a little better on offense. I thought we came off the ball a little harder, and I thought that both Raymond and Maurice (White) were able to get some holes and then do something with it."
Initially, Benedictine came out passing the ball, and Williams didn't even touch the ball until the fifth offensive play of the game.
"I felt that they were so strong defensively that we needed to be balanced," Bortnick said. "And I felt that if we able to be more balance, I thought it would help us in the long run. We tried and there were times when we made some plays in the passing game but we still need a lot of work to get that addressed."
On the sixth offensive play of the game, Williams started off tackle, as he does on almost every play, and raced 58-yards down the left sideline for a touchdown. With that score, Williams surpassed Larry Zelina, a former Ohio State Buckeye, as the school's all time scoring leader.
"We always talk about having a good start, and we know that when we're able to get him in the end zone it kind of sets the tone for the type of game we can end up playing," Bortnick said. "His big run in the beginning of the game kind of set the tone where we felt more confident about playing ball."
On the very next offensive possession for the Bengals, Benedictine called timeout right before they broke the huddle for the first play. Williams left the huddle for the sideline, where he sat down on the bench and proceeded to vomit.
Williams on the sideline (right before getting sick)
"In the beginning during pregame, I was sick so I really couldn't
participate in pregame like I wanted to, but I knew I had to play hard tonight
because we had a big game in front of us," Williams said. "So from the
time I got the ball I'm thinking ‘Just go for the big one, right off the bat,
even with a headache and all.'
"So when I scored, I was thinking that I've got to put some more points on the board, and that's when my head started hurting more."
Williams broke numerous big runs throughout the game, and at times, it looked as if he had eyes in the back of his head. He rushed for 278 yards on 27 totes on the night.
"He's as good as a running back that you'll ever see, evident by, again, some of the cuts and acceleration moves that he's capable of doing," Bortnick said. "And Mooney's defense is as sound as it gets and I'm sure that they said that they had guys in position to make plays, but he just has a way and a knack of finding an opening or making a guy miss and then accelerating to make a big play."
Just about all of his talents were on display at one time or another during the Mooney game. In addition to his spectacular moves in the open field, Williams flashed an extra gear on his 58-yard touchdown run to beat a Mooney defender with an angle on him and get into the end zone.
"I think I played an A-plus game tonight," he said. "I try to practice hard every time I get a chance to. If I practice hard, I play hard. That's the whole motto that our team, you practice hard you play hard."
Despite the prodigious numbers that Williams continues to compile against top-notch competition from around the state, there are pundits that continue to pigeonhole Williams as being too small to play running back at the next level.
"I don't know who says that kind of stuff, but he's as good as a back you'll see, and size-wise, he's the right proportionate weight for the type of boy he is and what type of athlete he is," said Bortnick who blocked for Tony Dorsett at Pitt and has compared Williams favorably to Dorsett. "This issue about him being stereotyped as maybe not too big is silly. You can't disrespect what a football player he is and that's what he is. He's accomplished a lot."
Williams just scoffs at the notion.
"Size isn't everything," he said. "If you've got strength, speed and vision, that's what's everything to me. But I'll be there."
Of course, he said he'd like to win the Mr. Football award this year, something that eluded him last year when he rushed for 3,250 yards and 39 touchdowns. He had a career season last year and if it wasn't for Ben Mauk, he would be a top candidate to win his second one this season.
"Yeah it's important," he said. "If I get it, I'll be happy, but if I don't get it, I'll congratulate who ever gets it."
After watching Williams run through his normally stout defense, he might get the vote of Mooney coach P.J. Fecko if he had one.
"He's an extremely good back," Fecko said. "He is very elusive, he has great explosion and tremendous vision. But they have a lot of weapons outside of Williams, they have an outstanding supporting cast, those guys get overlooked. They're a great football team."
Make no mistake about it, though, it's Williams that makes a very good team, a great one, and with the proper guidance by the administration at Benedictine and the requisite effort from Williams, he obviously needs to try as hard in the class room as he practices to play in the games, he'll get that opportunity to excel at running back at the school of his choice on the next level.
Williams huddles up
Watching from the sidelines while a teammate scores