Williams' odyssey nears end

If it's true that "Good things come to those who wait," one Tennessee Vol should be on the verge of a stellar career.

Gerald Williams' convoluted path to Big Orange Country is nearing the finish line. Originally signed in 2005, he needs to pass just one summer-school course to be eligible at long last.

"I'm just finishing up my last class," he said during a break in UT Picture Day, adding that he is doing "pretty good" in the class and on track to get a passing grade in about a week.

Given that he's been on the verge of being a Vol for three years, however, you have to wonder: Isn't there a hint of doubt somewhere in his sub-conscious?

"There's no doubt in my mind this time," he said. "There's nothing they can do. I've got my documents. I've got my graduation from City College (of San Francisco). There's pretty much nothing they can do about it right now."

The "they" is the NCAA Clearinghouse. It flagged Williams' academic transcript when he was coming out of Boyd Anderson High of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., three years ago ... but only after he had participated in a week of preseason drills with the Vols.

A year passed without being cleared, so Williams enrolled at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. He recorded 96 tackles in the fall of 2006 but continued to get the cold shoulder from the Clearinghouse.

He spent last fall at City College of San Francisco, registering 146 tackles and six forced fumbles while working toward his junior-college degree. Now, pending a passing grade in the summer-school course, his 36-month odyssey will come to an end.

"The toughest time was when it (standardized test score) first came back," he recalled. "Then again when I had to leave Fork Union, took the test over and they slapped it again. That was really one of the lowest points of my life.

"I did everything right. I gave 'em documents when they needed documents. Whatever needed to be proven, I proved it, but they still didn't believe it."

Helping Williams through those dark days was fellow Floridian Vladimir Richard, who also signed with Tennessee in 2005.

"We talked every day," Williams recalled. "Vlad's my best friend, my brother. He just told me to keep my head up ... we're going to get through it together."

Few signees would stick with a program for two years. The fact Williams stuck with the Vols for three years is almost unimaginable. He admits that the thought of taking the easy way out and signing with another school crossed his mind a few times.

"It popped into my head," he said, "but I knew I was going to do my job to get back here, so I just kept it out of my head.... This is where I wanted to play at."

The obvious question: What made him stay with the Vols when fate (and the Clearinghouse) seemed to be working against him?

"We're family. Look around," he said, nodding toward a cluster of teammates. "We're all laughing and kicking it together. The family part is what gets me. And who wouldn't want to play in Neyland Stadium with 109,000 people a game showing up, no matter who you play?"

So, after a year in limbo, a year in Virginia and a year in California, Gerald Williams is ready to spend a couple of years in Orange.

"When they told me I had to go to California, at first I was like, 'California?' I'd never been there before but it was a good experience for me," he said. "I went over there and accomplished some goals, and I'm ready to accomplish some here."

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