I once used the following quote from Vince Lombardi to describe former Southern Miss linebacker Korey Williams as he was nearing the end of his football playing career with the Golden Eagles:
"Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness, and respect for authority are the price each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile."
Little did I know at the time, but that quote would come to define the New Orleans native not only in his football playing career but also in the way he would live his life after football.
Korey Williams played for Southern Miss from 2007 (a redshirt year) to the championship run in 2011, a year he tore his ACL against Virginia four games into his senior year. For those that saw Korey play, he was a throwback linebacker. #42 played with tremendous heart, effort, physicality, and always seemed to be a step ahead of his competitor because of his preparation. He played in typical old school Southern Miss style, with a chip on his shoulder that continued to drive him every day.
A great leader for many years for the Southern Miss defense, you'd be hard pressed to find a player that gave more of himself on the field than Korey Williams. To hear his story, his play on the field is really a reflection of who he is and where he came from.
Korey grew up in inner city New Orleans in what he described as a poverty stricken area. He was raised by his mom, but had no father figure in his life through his childhood. To fill that void, Korey turned to football where he would begin to invest the major years of his life.
"It was football that really provided for me my first positive male role models in my life," Williams told GoldenEaglePride.com.
"I didn't have uncles around that I could look up to, no father figures. It wasn't until football that I started to find that and it was coaches who started to really provide that for me. I'm thankful for football because it gave me something positive in my life that I could hold on to. I can remember riding the public bus across town every day just so that I could play."
At Edna Karr High School in New Orleans, Williams said his head coach there took him in and showed him what it meant to be a man. You can imagine the devastation he must have felt when in his Junior Season Hurricane Katrina would ravage south Louisiana and close just about every school in the area. Williams moved to a school in Texas to continue playing football and started to draw the attention of some college coaches who began to realize his potential to play at the next level.
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Texas football was good to Korey, but his heart belonged at home in New Orleans. Edna Karr was one a few schools that opened back up after the awful storm, and he returned home to play his senior season.
By this time, several schools were in the mix, but not many even knew his school had opened back up.
"Baylor saw me play when I was in Texas, so they continued to recruit me and stay on me," he said. "I also had a lot of interest from schools out west like Washington and Washington State. Even Purdue came down and offered me a scholarship, and I loved what they had up there so I went ahead and committed."
Interestingly enough, while committed to Purdue, another school started to emerge on his radar. Southern Miss. Even more interesting is the two coaches that handled the majority of his recruitment, Jay Hopson and Lytrell Pollard.
"Hop recruited me, and he stayed on me even though I was committed to Purdue," Williams explained. "It was a visit I took to Southern Miss and Coach Hopson really convinced me that USM was where I needed to continue my career. Then I met guys like Gerald McGrath and Gerald Baptiste, and man those guys welcomed me in and I was at home."
Williams flipped to Southern Miss and signed with the Golden Eagles and Coach Bower, his position coach being Jay Hopson.
"I thought Coach Hopson was a great man and he cared so much about me, way more than just football," he said. "I was a knucklehead as a freshman and I ended up redshirting so I had a lot of time on my hands. Hopson saw things in me though and kept me around."
With a regime change brought in Coach Fedora and his staff, and a new mentor for Korey Williams, Coach Duggan. The influence of Coach Duggan and their time together brought Korey a new perspective on life.
"He was so influential on me and impacted my life in so many ways," Williams said. "The one thing he taught me, and it stays with me to this day, is to never feel sorry for myself. I can remember when I tore my ACL in my senior season, I was devastated. Coach Duggan told me that I cannot feel sorry for myself, and that they needed me to help them win a conference championship.
"To this day, his influence remains with me. Think about it, we came from such different backgrounds. He was from the northeast and I was from south Louisiana, but he found a way to connect with me and forever change my life."
While Williams had many memories in his days with USM, one game in particular stood out to him.
"We were playing Virginia at home, and it was about a 3:00 game," he said. "We got down 2 or 3 touchdowns in the second half and looked dead in the water, and at USM, you know nothing is ever given to you. The Mississippi heat started to wear them down and we could feel them wilting, and man we jumped on them and came all the way back and won that game.
"I remember the Auburn game when I had my first game on the big stage. There are so many games and so many memories that stand out to me, and to this day I stay in contact with my teammates like Ronnie Thornton, Gerald Baptiste and Tukombo Abanikada. Those guys were my brothers and we went through so much together."
At the start of his senior season, Williams also had another thought beginning to creep into his mind. The idea that he could play at the next level really drove him to continue to excel on the field. Just a few games in, however, Williams would tear his ACL and started to wonder if football was going to be over for him. After the long grind back, he earned an opportunity in the NFL.
"I went to a mini camp with the Giants, but to be honest I was not yet 100% and I knew it," he said. "They liked what they saw from me but they also saw me limping and being a brutal league, I didn't make it."
To be so close, yet not ending football on his terms continued to always be in the back of his mind.
"I returned home and tried to do some personal training and thought about the entrepreneur life, but I couldn't shake the feeling that I hadn't finished playing football yet," he explained.
"My life was controlled by football. It was constantly on my mind, and I couldn't really settle into life because I knew there was more for me."
He received another try-out with the Giants, and when that didn't work out the National Spring Football League came calling.
"I was in Atlanta and trying to play football, then they cancelled the season right when things got started. After that, I started to lose hope and was thinking I'd have to end my career on an injury. That just didn't sit right with me at all."
Unable to really focus at home and not even working out, Williams got one more chance to go out the right way.
"I got a call from the Brooklyn Bolts in 2014, an XFL team," he said. "Now remember, these guys were mostly ones cut from camp so they were ready to go and I had been doing nothing. So two weeks before I ran some sprints and tried to cram getting back into shape.
"I really didn't even tell a lot of people about this because it was my last shot. A few games in I became a starter and even had an INT in my final game that made Sportscenter."
After one season with the XFL, Korey had scratched that itch and realized he finally had the closure on his football career he had so desperately wanted.
"Man I can't tell you what being able to play again like that did for me," he said. "It allowed me to live with a clear mind and I was just able to put that chapter of my life to rest. I came home with a new attitude and wanted to make a difference in people's lives."
Today, Korey is doing just that. He has teamed up with former Golden Eagle Gerald Baptiste and the two of them have started a real estate development in inner city New Orleans to try and help as many people as possible. As he tells it, this gives him his chance to give back to all the people that have allowed him to have his opportunities in life.
"You know what, I thought about being a coach," he said. "But I really wanted to give back with something other than football. This is a way I can bring about change to people that really need it, and this is how I want to give back.
"I want to show people they can be like that inner city kid from New Orleans, who went on to get a college degree and learned how to make it socially in this world. Football gave me that opportunity, but I want to see it happen for people in other ways too."
Today, Korey works with his real estate business as well as helping others through financial education. "This is something we've started just to try and give young people some tools when entering the real world," he said. "My life was so focused on football I didn't have anything like that. People don't have that type of education, so I'm hoping we can really help to change lives in this way as well."
You can also find Williams still keeping up with beloved Golden Eagles.
"Last week I was in Houston and I found the game," he said. "People were all around watching the other games, but I was right there watching my Golden Eagles play.
"I love this team. That come back was an old school dominant Southern Miss win. And that offense man, they've got things rolling right now. To go into an SEC opponent's stadium and push them around the way they did. That offensive line opened up holes and just ran it down their throat.
"Usually in that type of game, you have to spread them out. But they just kept running it right at them. Man I was impressed."
As we'll do with our weekly feature, we asked Korey to give a prediction on the game vs Savannah State:
"Southern Miss, 44-0"
Throwback Korey Williams Article: Thanks for Everything, 42