Inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, there is one side of tight end D.J. Williams that is always on display. He has the ability to block for his teammates and be one of the best pass catching tight ends in the nation. However, off the field, Williams is one of the brightest and most outgoing students and has a smile and personality that lights up a room.
“I think I attribute that to my childhood,” Williams said. “I didn’t live the greatest childhood, but I always told myself to smile about everything because it could always be worse.”
The Little Rock native definitely has plenty of things to smile about these days as he has become one of the best tight ends in the Southeastern Conference and arguably the best tight end the University of Arkansas has ever seen.
Although football is the sport of choice nowadays for the Mackey Award (presented to the nation’s top tight end) finalist, basketball was the original love for Williams, who thought the hard court would be his ticket to success.
“I did the whole pee wee scene for football as a child and I really didn’t get serious about football until high school,” Williams said. “I thought I was going to be the next Kobe (Bryant) in basketball and have my own Sprite commercials.”
Once in high school, Williams focused all of his energy on football while playing both sides of the ball at defensive end and tight end. As a senior at Central Arkansas Christian, he was able to record 103 tackles in only eight games before being sidelined with an injury. Playing the defensive end position is something Williams says he could probably still do today.
“I definitely think I could still play there, no question,” Williams said. “I think I have the speed to come off the end and I have enough size to bang around with the big guys. I think I could be a beast at defensive end.”
After finishing his high school career, Williams wasleft with many different options on where to go to school,including offers from Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Ole Missand Mississippi State, but for him the choice was easy as thehome of the Razorbacks was the place for him.“The big fan support is what made me come here fromthe very beginning,” Williams said. “Like Dorothy from theWizard of Oz said, ‘There’s no place like home.’”Williams went on to say that his favorite thing aboutgame days in Arkansas is when the crowd gets into it. Thefeeling he gets before walking out of the tunnel will be missed,Williams noted, and he notices it more as he finishes his finalseason as a Razorback.“If I walk out and I can tell the fans are really going crazy,I know we’re going to have a good game,” Williams said. “Wefeed off their energy andthese last few games are goingto be emotional for not onlyme, but for my mom. Shealways cries when she has toleave Fayetteville after games,so for this last game in LittleRock, I have to make sure Ihave a box of tissues for her.”For the last threeseasons, the senior tight endhas played under head coachBobby Petrino. As many fanshave noticed, Williams hasbecome an integral part ofthe Razorback offense underPetrino and he says the entireteam bought into the ideaof team chemistry. The newteam mentality is somethingthat started with CoachPetrino and has translatedinto success on the field.“All that started whenCoach Petrino first got here,”Williams said. “He was verytough coming in, and a lot ofus had to bond together andstick together throughoutthe whole fall and the whole season. In a situation like that, with the coaching change andplaying in the SEC week in and week out, we could either breakapart and lose or stick together and start winning and that’swhat we started doing. It just bonded us together as a wholefamily, and this year our record shows that.”During that first year under Coach Petrino, Williamsrecorded one of the best seasons that a tight end has ever hadat Arkansas, becoming the first Mackey Award semifinalistin school history and being named first-team All-SEC by theAssociated Press. He also racked up huge numbers as he led theteam in receptions (61), receiving yards (723) and receivingtouchdowns (3). Williams also set the school record for catchesby a tight end in a single season.Now that he has nearly completed his final season as aRazorback, the communications major has always done hisbest to stay grounded, remember where he came from and bethankful for the life he lives today.“My family is a huge part of my life,” Williams said. “It’shard when you get tired to not feel like giving up and then allI have to do is remember what my mom and the rest of myfamily has had to go through and then it’s like a little extraboost to keep me going. I think that’s huge for everybody tohave, someone or something to play for. For me, that justhappens to be my family.”Looking back on his life as well as his football career,Williams has become not only a leader on the football field,but also a role model off the field. He says he never saw thiscoming, but looks to carry it over into his future endeavors.Whether that’s playing on Sundays in the NFL or just livinga normal lifestyle, Williams plans to make an impact. He wasrecently honored by Disney Sports as the Disney Spirit Awardrecipient, which is given annually to college football’s mostinspirational figure“I always thought something like this was just off in thestars somewhere,” Williams said. “For some reason, I think youshould approach life with a good attitude and always do whatyour mother says. With that you can go wherever you want to.Don’t put any limits on your expectations of life because it cantake you anywhere.”