Between the hashes inside Razorback Stadium, there is one side of tight end D.J. Williams that is always on display, his 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 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 quickly become one of the best tight ends in the SEC and arguably the best tight end the University of Arkansas has ever seen. Although football is his sport today, Williams says he thought basketball was going to 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 getting to 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 suffering 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. I think I have the speed to come off the end and I have enough size to bang around with the big guys,” Williams said. “I think I could be a beast on the defensive end.”
After finishing his high school career, Williams was left with many different options on where to go to school, including offers from Oklahoma State, Georgia Tech, Ole Miss and Mississippi State, but for him the choice was easy as the home of the Razorbacks was the place for him.
“The big fan support is what made me come here,” he said. “Like Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz said, ‘There’s no place like home.’”
Williams went on to say that his favorite thing about gamedays in Arkansas is when the crowd gets into it. A feeling he gets before even walking out of the tunnel.
“If I walk out and I can tell the fans are really going crazy, I know we’re going to have a good game,” the junior said. “We feed off their energy and for anybody reading this, I want you to keep coming to the games and we’ll keep playing good for you.”
As he began to embark upon his college playing career, Williams was able to contribute very early as a freshman playing behind fellow CAC graduate, Andrew Davie. As the second string tight end, Williams was able to play in every game that season except for the Cotton Bowl against the Missouri Tigers. He also contributed greatly in the blocking category, sometimes plowing the way for future NFL first-round draft picks, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.
“That year was great for my experience, Williams said. “As a freshman, I was terrified each and every week because it was a new opponent each week, but it was something new and good for my growth as a player.”
Heading into his sophomore season, Williams had to endure a few changes. Head Coach Bobby Petrino was entering his first season as head coach of the Razorbacks and Williams was now an integral part of Coach Petrino’s gameplan. Something the then sophomore tight end welcomed with open arms.
“When Coach Petrino got here, I found out the tight end had a slightly different role. I understood that and I knew if I wanted to succeed in that role, I was going to have to step up and set it in my mind that I was going to accomplish what I wanted to do. Ever since then, it has just clicked for me.”
As he continued throughout his sophomore season, Williams recorded one of the best seasons that a tight end has ever had at Arkansas, becoming the first Mackey Award (presented to the nation’s top tight end) semifinalist in school history and named All-SEC first-team selection by the Associated Press. He also racked up huge numbers as he led the team in receptions (61), receiving yards (723) and receiving touchdowns (3). Williams also set the school record for catches by a tight end in a single season.
Heading into his third year as a Razorback, the communications major has always done his best to stay grounded, remember where he came from, and be thankful for the life he lives today.
“My family is a huge part of my life,” he said. “It’s hard when you get tired to not feel like giving up and then all I have to do is remember what my mom and the rest of my family has had to go through and then it’s like a little extra boost to keep me going. I think that’s huge for everybody to have, someone or something to play for. For me, that just happens to be my family.”
As Williams goes through his junior season and continues to build upon his already stat-filled Razorback career, he wants to also make sure that after he has hung up the cardinal and white for the last time, he doesn’t want to be remembered for one specific thing.
“I want to be remembered as the only D. J. Williams. You hear about how there is only one Michael Jordan or who is like Michael Jordan, but for me, personality wise and for my play on the field and off the field,” Williams said. “I want to be that guy that takes away from the stereotype that all athletes are stupid or athletes just care about the money. I want to be the player that plays for something else.”