Photo: CJ Williams
#AFAN (Air Force/Army/Navy) stories: My series is about more than academy football players. These stories are about future officers selflessly committed to serving their country during a seemingly endless war on terrorism. There are only 0.5 percent Americans making up the military. Throughout our history Cadets and Midshipmen have answered the call to serve in times of war, but this is a generation of volunteers.
--- “I get to work daily with heroes that joined the military AFTER we were attacked on 9/11, AFTER the war started in Afghanistan and AFTER the war started in Iraq. I would like to think I’m that brave, but I’m not so sure."
-- Phil McConkey, 1979 Navy grad and New York Giants Super Bowl champion
By TOM SHANAHAN
A Navy, Army and Air Force player often follows a family member to the one of the service academies, but C.J. Williams’ football path to Navy had a roundabout twist. His older brother L.G. Williams led him to Navy … without attending Annapolis.
L.G was recruited by Navy as a senior on the Cibolo (Tx.) Steele varsity while C.J. was a sophomore teammate, but L.G. chose to remain closer to home, playing at Texas State. That might have been the end of C.J.’s academy future since C.J. had his sights set on attending an Ivy League school and Harvard and Columbia recruited him.
But then Navy reentered the picture.
“The more I learned about Navy the more I realized this was the route I wanted to take,” Williams said. “I wanted to take the best route for my future and there was a chance to play big-time football.”
C.J. is now a junior starting slot back coming off the best game of his career. In Navy’s 42-10 win over East Carolina in an AAC game, the 5-foot-8, 175-pounder got behind the secondary twice to catch touchdown passes of 80 and 29 yards among three receptions for 117. He also ran the ball twice for 11 and returned punts.
“C.J. had a great game,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said. “He not only caught the ball well he blocked well. He’ a complete back for us; we’re really happy with him. He’s been doing a good job on punt return. He’s a complete player. Were counting him to finish strong and have a great rest of the season, especially against Memphis.”
Navy (2-0, 1-0 AAC West) has a Thursday night stage on ESPN when the Midshipmen travel to face preseason AAC West favorite Memphis (3-0, 0-0 AAC West) at the Liberty Bowl.
To land Williams, Navy had some help from one of those special high school coaches that guide their athletes more than on Friday nights. Not every high school has one.
Scott Lehnhoff, Steele’s former coach and now athletic director for the school district, had an appreciation for Annapolis for a couple reasons. He has a close friend that is an Annapolis graduate and Navy assistant coach Danny O’Rourke routinely makes Cibolo a stop on his recruiting trail. The final key to Lehnhoff advising Williams on Navy was recognizing Williams was up to the challenge of the academy beyond football. Not every kid is a good fit for the demanding lifestyle.
“Navy got an outstanding kid,” Lehnhoff said. “He was everything you wanted for us as a football player, a teammate and a great student. I remember having a long conversation with him and another one of our coaches about all the benefits Navy offered with the education, starting salary, health care and all that comes with a degree from there.”
A Harvard and Columbia degree isn’t too shabby, but Navy also is a free education. Another tipping point was once Williams saw Navy’s schedule he viewed it as “big-time football.” In addition to being featured for AAC games, such as Thursday at Memphis, Navy annually plays Notre Dame and, of course, there is the grandest rivalry in college football, the Army-Navy Game.
Williams didn’t play his first year, but he climbed the depth chart. As a sophomore, he started two games and played in 11. He finished with 22 carries for 183 yards and a touchdown and nine catches for 187 yards.
“At the beginning it was frustrating going from high school, playing every down, and not playing,” he said. “It was like starting all over. But I talked to people and they told me to take a step back and reflect. Tre Walker (a senior in 2018) told me my time will come. I played my role anyway I could. I went on the scout team and tried to give (the starting defense) the best look I could.”
Patience also gave him greater appreciation for the mental game.
“I feel like I’m able to play a lot of faster,” Williams said. “I’m more confident in my ability, knowing the playbook and recognizing the defense. I’m able to react and just play instead of thinking.”
The two touchdown receptions against East Carolina best illustrated that maturation. ECU focused on stopping the fullback dive — the key to igniting the triple-option — and quarterback Malcolm Perry’s forte is his speed and elusiveness running the ball.
“The coaches had a great game plan,” Williams said. “We saw them playing the run and knew it would be open. Knowing the game plan, I realized I could be getting the ball. It was exciting knowing the ball was coming my way. I got a clean release and hit my landmark. The ball was the there — everything was good.”
One other hurdle for Navy to overcome to gain a commitment from Williams was his father, Greg Williams Sr., is a career Army man. But it wasn’t rooting for Army that was the hold up. His father is fine with favoring Navy — at least until his son graduates. Williams’ hesitation was as an “Army brat” he had been frequently uprooted when his father was moved from base to base.
“That’s tough as a kid,” he said. “But as I matured I grew into the person I am now, I realized this (Annapolis) was the best route.”
The next stop on Williams’ journey is the Memphis among 10 remaining contests — 11 with a bowl game.
The Midshipmen host Air Force on Oct. 5 in the first leg of the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy round-robin series. They play the Irish on Nov. 16 at 77,622-seat Notre Dame Stadium. The Army-Navy Game is Dec. 14 in Philadelphia.
That’s a long and winding road out of Cibolo, but the “big-time football” stops were too much for Williams to turn down the challenge.
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Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
— Book on Michigan State’s leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty’s untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
http://shanahan.report/a/mystery-solved-in-thornhill-and-namath-myth David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; “History writes people out of the story. It’s our job to write them back in.”