Williams waiting on call from NFL
Rokeem Williams’ personal story of overcoming hardships mimics the storyline of his football team at Miami University in Ohio.
The fifth year captain of the RedHawks and NFL hopeful is part of college football history as they are the first team to ever start 0-6 and finish 6-6 to be bowl eligible. The team played in the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26 against Mississippi State. Despite losing by one point in the bowl game, Williams said he is still proud of their accomplishments.
“It is a heck of a way to end my college career,” said the 2012 graduate of Williston-Elko High School of playing in his first bowl game of his five-year career. “This is one of the best years we’ve had.”
The RedHawks have had a rough few years as they struggled to win more than a few games each season. The 2013 season ended with no wins for the team, which led to a coaching change. Many players also wanted to leave – and some did – but Williams stuck with his team.
Things slowly started changing for the team over the next couple seasons.
“It’s about never losing faith and staying the course,” said Williams, who is now reaping the benefits of that commitment.
Not giving up led to the RedHawks going from a losing season to ending 6-6 this year. “Once we started winning, it all came together,” said Williams. “We ran with it and didn’t turn back.”
This led to the Mid-American Conference team playing against Mississippi State, which is a Southeastern Conference team. “I’m very proud of that,” said Williams.
Williams is no stranger to facing adversity as he spent a few years in foster care. However, he is now the first person in his family to go to college. He graduated on Dec. 16 with a degree in family studies and minor in gerontology.
“I’ve never let situations define me,” he said.
In fact, he’s using his experiences to help others. That’s why he decided to study family studies so he can go into social work.
“I want to help out and give back. It allows me the chance to interact with kids with similar stories to mine,” said Williams, who interned at the Connie Maxwell Children’s Home and Lexington School District.
Williams also credits several people with getting him to where he is today.
During his eighth grade year at Guinyard-Butler Middle School, Williams met Lee Clamp who was his tight end coach. Williams was ready to quit football because he had to walk many miles home from practice, which took over an hour. However, Clamp, who at the time was the youth pastor of Barnwell First Baptist Church, offered to give Williams a ride home each day if he would go to the Wednesday night youth service at church.
Williams agreed and stuck with football.
Clamp’s wife Leisa was Williams’ second grade teacher and vouched for her former student. “She said he’s a real good kid,” said Williams of what Leisa told Lee.
Rides home soon developed into something more as Clamp became a mentor to Williams, who often spent time at the Clamp household studying and hanging out.
He gained a new mentor and second family. Clamp showed Williams “what it means to be a man” and pushed him to do his best.
“He became a dad for me. He got me to where I am today,” said Williams of Clamp, who is now the evangelism director for the S.C. Baptist Convention.
Williams now has three new younger brothers with Clamp’s sons. “They drive me crazy,” said Williams jokingly.
For his ninth grade year Williams moved to Williston-Elko High School since Clamp’s mother, Alexia Clamp, was superintendent of the school district at the time. He said this was a good move that provided caring educators who “went above and beyond” to push him toward success.
He became a member of the Blue Devils varsity football team where he earned a number of accolades under the direction of Coach Dwayne Garrick, including being the region’s Player of the Year in 2011 and his team’s Most Valuable Player. Williams also played in the 2009 State Championship game.
Williams also worked hard in the classroom in order to earn the grade point average and SAT score he needed to go to college and fulfill his dream. He ended up receiving multiple offers and scholarships to play college football, but eventually signed with Miami University in Oxford, Ohio because they offered him the wide receiver position, which was his preference. He also fell in love with the community because he related to it since it is a small town and similar to his hometown.
As he returns to South Carolina for family time as he waits for news on whether he will be drafted into the NFL, Williams said he has one more chance to showcase his talents during the Tropical Senior Bowl on Jan. 17, 2017 in Daytona Beach, Fla.
“I’m waiting on that phone call. I will see what God has in store for me,” he said.
He hopes he can catch the eye of an NFL team because he wants the opportunity to play the game he loves while earning money to support his family, including providing a better life for his five-year-old daughter, Aubrey. “I want to make sure she never wants for anything,” said Williams.
He has received advice from his uncle, Troy Brown, a Barnwell native who is a retired NFL player.
While he still has a few more months before he will know whether an NFL team is interested, Williams encourages others to not back down in the face of adversity.
“You can always jump back from it. It is definitely not impossible,” he said. “If you start something, you’ve got to finish it. Attack it with everything you’ve got.”
He hopes other students will “chase” their college aspirations just as he did because the rewards are worth any challenges that come along. Williams said several nieces and nephews have already talked about going to college after seeing him do so well.