Military helps transform W&J senior Mike Williams from equipment manager to feared D-lineman
At 6-foot-1 and a muscle-bound 245 pounds, W&J’s Mike Williams looks the part of a ruthless pass-rusher.
In the Presidents’ season-opening win over No. 18 Wittenberg, Williams had two sacks among his 10 tackles. The second sack — midway through the fourth quarter — caused Tigers quarterback Blake King to fumble, and Presidents linebacker Nick Getz picked up the loose ball and ran 52 yards for the clinching score in a 16-8 W&J win.
The performance was a continuation of Williams’ junior season when he led the Presidents with 7½ sacks. It is almost difficult to fathom him showing up at W&J as a 140-pounder who hadn’t played football since his sophomore year of high school.
His remarkable transformation can be attributed in large part to another team he is part of: the U.S. Army Reserve.
“It was something I just inspired myself to do my senior year of high school,” Williams said about his choice to enlist in the military, noting he had no close relatives who had served.
Williams played defensive back at Langley as a freshman and sophomore until the high school was shuttered in 2012. He didn’t play high school football after that, but when he went to W&J two years later, he landed a work-study job as equipment manager for the football team.
Williams worked for the team during the fall before being summoned by the Army. He spent what would have been his freshman spring semester with the Reserves before returning to campus in fall 2015.
His duties as equipment manager had rekindled his desire to play football, so he came back thinking he might talk to coach Mike Sirianni about walking on. Again, the military intervened. Williams was called to active duty and spent nearly a year deployed in Iraq and Kuwait.
He became a squad leader, was in charge of all training and operations for the theater sustainment command — essentially, the logistics headquarters — and achieved the rank of sergeant. And he began to pack on weight and muscle.
Even Williams didn’t realize how much he had grown. When he came back to W&J after his deployment, he finally approached Sirianni about walking on as a defensive back.
But that scrawny boy who wanted to chase wide receivers was now a chiseled military man of well over 200 pounds.
“(Sirianni) chuckled a little bit and said I would be a better fit as a defensive end,” Williams said.
Added Sirianni: “When he came back from his year away, I noticed something different in him in terms of his attitude and strength and power. He has worked hard, and he has that yes-sir, no-sir mentality.”
Williams played sparingly during his sophomore season but provided a glimpse of what was to come. He made only seven tackles in seven games, but two were for losses, including 1½ sacks.
“I kept a real hard-work mentality,” said Williams, who turns 23 next month and is one of the Presidents’ team captains. “It was definitely a huge learning curve. I never was in a 3-point stance in my life. Slowly but surely, I started picking it up. I’m still learning to this day.”
His breakout came last season when he had 46 tackles, 12 for losses, including the 7½ sacks. Given his performance against Wittenberg, perennially one of the top Division III teams in the nation, Williams could be in line for a monster 2019.
“He’s tenacious. He’s never going to stop,” Sirianni said. “You’re going to have to block him for the whole course of the play. If you block him for 2 seconds, he’s going to get off the block and make a play 20 yards downfield.”
Said Williams: “Last year was kind of like an acclimation period. Now, I feel like I’m more in control, and the game has slowed down for me. (I have) a mentality like nobody can stop me. No matter what, I’m going to complete the mission.”
There are more missions in Williams’ future, the military kind. The Reserves allow him to play college football, and, he said, he will fulfill his Army requirements over the winter.
He has maintained contact with his squad and his superiors throughout the season to keep abreast of what is happening. Once he graduates in the spring, he will make a career out of the military.
By most people’s standards, Williams already has accomplished quite a bit. But no matter what rank he achieves with the Army or how many quarterbacks he harasses, he said he always will strive for more.
“That’s one of my biggest motivators,” he said. “I shouldn’t be to the point where I am right now in such a small span of time. I even doubted myself. I just keep fighting anything that comes my way and keep prevailing.”