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By Ernie W. Webb III | email@example.com
Humbling and grateful. Former Washburn star Cary Williams uses those words often when describing his life and football career.
It’s a tale with more peaks and valleys than a mountain range, of how a talented, self-described “rough around the edges” kid blossomed into a starting cornerback on a Baltimore Ravens team playing in Sunday's Super Bowl against San Francisco.
“I’m grateful that I am where I am. I thank God for that,” said Williams, attendee, Murfreesboro, Tenn., who plays for the Baltimore Ravens. “To make it to the NFL, and to play on a team like Baltimore, it’s living a dream.”
Reaching that dream was a struggle. Williams grew up in Liberty City, a Miami, Fla., neighborhood with a reputation for violence. As a teen, he was adopted by a cousin, living away from his mother and father.
But Williams was a star on the football field at Chaminade-Madonna College Preparatory High in Hollywood, Fla., which gave him a shot a fresh start at Fordham University in New York City. He spent two seasons at the school, moved back home and was out of football for a year, working at DirectTV.
“I had to do some soul-searching, some changing,” said Williams, who had 75 tackles and four interceptions for the Ravens in 2012. “I really only had one opportunity to play football again.”
That opportunity was Washburn, which offered Williams a scholarship in 2006.
“I took it, sight unseen,” he said. “I knew that was my last chance. They took me in, and I’ll never forget that. I’ll always love Washburn for that.”
Williams made the most of his time in Topeka, emerging as one of the top defensive backs in small college football. In 23 games at Washburn, the 2007 All-American had 94 tackles, 12 pass deflections, seven interceptions and scored twice on kickoff returns.
He also settled in at Washburn seamlessly, maturing into a driven, dedicated team player.
“I’ve always been a hard worker, always tried to do more than what the average player would,” Williams said. “What I learned at Washburn, from guys like Coach (Craig) Schurig, is how to compete with composure, how to remain poised.
“I also had a great relationship with my teammates. I still talk to some of them. Being on that team was a life-changing experience.”
Williams’ work ethic paid off after his senior year when became the fifth Ichabod selected in the NFL draft, taken in the seventh round by the Tennessee Titans.
Few seventh-round picks end up on an NFL roster, let alone starting. Williams played sparingly early on, spending much of his first two seasons on the practice squad.
“I never saw it as a tough time, being on a practice squad. I knew I wasn’t ready, wasn’t a polished corner,” he said. “That time on the squad allowed me to hone my skills. It was a blessing.”
The Ravens signed Williams midway through the 2009 season. After two seasons as a special teams player and backup, he became a starter in 2011, lining up with the likes of future Hall of Famers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.
“I idolized Ray when I was a kid, so to play with him is a dream,” Williams said. “It’s humbling playing with so many great players. It’s hard to describe how it feels to have the trust of those guys on the football field. It’s special.”