Sept. 11, 2000

by Tim Welsh

What makes football exciting? Is it the aggressive play and bone-crushing hits applied by a monster linebacker? Or is it the agility, power and determination of an elusive running back? Or could it be the acrobatic catches made by a speedy wide receiver?

Unfortunately, none of these capture the true excitement of football, although they are all a part of it. In fact, they all demonstrate it. No, the true excitement of football does not lie in the physical nature of the game, but in the passion for the game, which radiates through the stadium every weekend. It is this passion and love for the game that inspires the linebacker’s aggressive play, the running back’s drive for the end zone and the wide receiver’s sacrifice of life and limb just to get his hands on that ball. Fans of football feed on the passion the players exude on the field to such a degree that it transmits through television waves.

At Notre Dame, this passion exists on the highest level. Those lucky enough to sit in Notre Dame Stadium can actually feel this passion rumble through the seats as the Irish players sprint out of the tunnel onto the field to begin the game and again at the game’s conclusion as they lift their helmets to the student section. During the game, spectators witness the results of hard work, done for the love of the game. One Irish player, in particular, embodies the passion players express on the field.

“I just love to play football,” says Brock Williams, the 5-10, 190 senior defensive back from Hammond, La.

Whenever he hears mention of the sport, Williams’ eyes light up and he gets restless like a thoroughbred chomping at the bit.

“I am just ready to ball. I can’t wait. I am looking forward to playing,” says Williams in anticipation of the 2000 season.

As further evidence of his love for the game, Williams hopes to pursue a career in the National Football League, after which he plans to become a coach.

“I want to have a career in football and hopefully after that I want to coach. That’s just me, I want to coach. I guess I just love football that much. But I definitely want to coach.”

Williams’ passion translates into what Irish coach Bob Davie calls an “infectious enthusiasm” and an unparalleled work ethic.

“Brock Williams has really been a delight out here,” says Davie. “Everything he does, he does 100 percent, with a lot of ability. Brock has always enjoyed football.”

In regards to his enthusiasm, Williams says, “Some people wonder, how do you do it? How do you go out there energetic every day? How do you go out there and practice how you do? That’s just me, man. That is just the way I play.”

His strong work ethic spurred on by his passion allows Williams to play with a high level of confidence in his abilities, a trait most valuable to cornerbacks, according to defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.

“He’s got so much confidence,” says Mattison.

“All great corners, that’s the one thing they have, you can’t break their confidence.”

“I put hard work and confidence together,” says Williams.

“I believe that the harder I work, the better off I am on the field and the better I do in the game. I just want to put myself in a position where I can go out there and have confidence that my hard work is going to pay off. I know I have worked harder than the next man so why should I feel like he will do better than me? Whatever receiver goes against me this year, I know in my head that I worked harder than him and I can’t see how he is going to have a better game than me.

“Confidence is a whole other level. When you know you have worked hard and you know you have put all this into it, what you have done over the summer and the offseason. You know that you worked harder than the next man. That is where I get my confidence.”

With a reputation for being vocal on the field, Williams knows the difference between playing with confidence and playing with arrogance:

“Confidence is when you go out there with confidence in your team and in yourself and you are not afraid. Cockiness is when you go out there and just say this is what I am going to do. Some people use cockiness as a disguise for being afraid. I don’t go out there with cockiness, I go out with confidence knowing that I can do what I need to. I may pass a few words to the receiver just for fun, but I know my game is going to be up to par.”

Williams has the playing ability to support his confidence. One of just six freshmen to earn a monogram in 1997, Williams started eight of 11 games his sophomore year while recording 40 tackles, two forced fumbles, and one interception. He entered this season rated 23rd nationally among cornerbacks in Lindy’s 2000 preseason player evaluations. The Irish rely on Williams as their best one-on-one cover man and also as the nickel back on passing downs, a position which requires shrewd interpretation of opposing offenses and quick reactions.

Williams’ enthusiasm, work ethic and firm confidence all evidence the great passion he has for football. Probably the most telling indication of his intensity can be seen in his reaction to having football taken away from him. A few days before the start of the 1999 season, just after his emergence into the starting lineup the previous year, Williams learned he would sit out the ’99 campaign.

Williams wrestled with the idea of transferring. With teams such as Florida, Florida State, Tennessee, Miami, and South Carolina knocking at his door, he had to think long and hard about the challenge before him. Williams turned to his father, John, for guidance.

“My father influenced me to come back here. That was a big plus,” says Brock.

“I asked him what he would do if he was in my position and he told me, ‘I would face the challenge, I would never walk away from a challenge like that.’ So that is what I did.”

“I wasn’t sure,” said Davie.

“I knew he came from a great family. I knew deep down he was a great kid, but he loves football, and I didn’t know if he could stay away from it. But he did. It will be the best thing that could have happened to him. He has handled it the right way.”

Williams turned to his strong faith for support.

“I just thank God for giving me the opportunity to be here and to be playing,” Williams says.

“You never know, last year I could have transferred. I prayed about it and I think God led me here, so I stayed here. It was probably the best choice of my life. If I would have gone somewhere else it probably would have never been the same. I would have been in the same position with the same attitude.”

Williams says his year away from football has been a turning point, not just in his football career, but in his maturity, life and faith.

“I think I am mature because of what happened and I think I got closer to God because of what happened,” says Williams.

“I looked at my life and I looked at what God had given me and I just messed over it my first two years. That experience was a gift from God. It was a little punishment that I went through. It opened my eyes to what was going on. I was taking all these things for granted. God said, ‘Hey you can’t do that.’ There are a lot of people who want to be in your position that are not in your position. You have to take care of your business and do the right things.

“So that is what I have been doing. I know what I do affects other people, so anything I do now I do so as not to affect other people negatively. If I do anything I try to affect them positively. Anything I do, I do it with concern for other people. I kept myself close to God and he has just been with me ever since. Of course he has been with me all my life, but at a point I went astray, and now I am closer to God.”

During the year off Williams would demonstrate the full extent of his love for the game of football. He watched practice from the sidelines trying to learn the defense and instruct his fellow defensive backs. Unable to lift weights with the team, Williams worked out on his own, trying to imitate the Irish training regimens. Williams traveled to all but one away game at his own expense and bottle up his enthusiasm as a spectator. He bided his time, worked just as hard as ever and returned to practice in the spring.

“All it did was make me hungry, just hungry for football,” says Williams.

“I have been practicing so much, I am tired of practicing. I am ready to play. That’s the honest truth. I am just ready to go out there and perform and give the fans something to cheer about. It has been so long for me. It has been 18 months.”

This season marks the fulfillment of his challenge. With just as much enthusiasm, confidence and passion as ever, and perhaps a bit more, Williams anticipates the 2000 season.

“I have to work harder everyday and try to get my skills better and better,” says Williams.

“My cover skills, I like to hit, I like to tackle, and those things are good for me. A corner needs those types of abilities – speed, hitting skills and he needs to be able to cover. Those are the three things that I need and I think I have those things right now. The mental part of my game has stepped up right now as compared to sophomore year.”

“I hope they target me. I want them to target me,” says Williams.

“It just gives me more opportunities to make plays. They can target me and just play their game. I am just going out there to play ball. Whatever I do, it is going to be a happy Brock. I am going to be out there having fun.”

He places the utmost confidence in the 2000 Irish squad and ranks the Irish defense a level above those of recent years.

“I have watched film on a lot of teams, including other teams I have played on here in the past, but this is the best defense I have seen so far,” says Williams.

“I want to test the defense because I know we have talent. I have seen film of the Nebraska defense and it kind of reminds me of our defense. Basically, that is how we want to go out there and play.

“This is a different team. This is a whole different team from last year. The attitude, the ability, the personality. We have more character on this team and we have more leaders.”

Williams’ excitement flows from his speech as he looks forward to the 2000 season. It is obvious how much he has invested in football and how intensely he loves the game. He is a man who plays straight from the heart, giving his all every down whether in practice or on the field. He is one of the men responsible for giving Notre Dame Stadium that electric air on select Saturdays in autumn. It is the passion of players like Williams that make football exciting.

Welcome back, Brock Williams, welcome back.