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Feature: Football's James Williams

Pictured: James Williams (53) holds off a Holy Cross defender in a game played in 2008. Williams is a two-time All-America selection at left tackle.
Photo: Dave Silverman

Article by Nicole Yurchak
 

This year the Crimson features one of the nation's premier, albeit most underrated linemen, on the gridiron.  Senior offensive tackle, James Williams will be leading the offensive charge each week at left tackle where he is a two-time All-America selection. Since his arrival on campus in 2006, the local product of Chestnut Hill, Mass. has established himself as one of the top linemen in the Ivy League while accumulating a long list of accolades - including selections to preseason All-American teams by every major publication this summer.

Williams started playing football in the third grade, switching between the defensive line and running back.  In middle school, Williams had developed into one of the biggest kids on the team so coaches decided the offensive line would be a better fit for him.  It proved to be a smart move, allowing Williams to shine at nearby Roxbury Latin School where he was a three-year letterwinner and captain of the team.  

The summer before his senior year in high school, Harvard came knocking on Williams' door.  "I definitely wanted to come to Harvard, and being local made the decision easier," he says.  Once he arrived on campus, Williams says that he was immediately taken under the wings of seniors (and All-Ivy linemen) Andrew Brecker and Frank Fernandez.  "The best piece of advice they gave me was just to have fun because before you know it, it will be over.  This will be the most fun (I) will have playing football so embrace it and have fun," Williams recalls.

Despite being a naturally gifted athlete, Williams realized that he would need to become stronger and heavier in order to compete at the college level.  Consequently, he took advantage of the school's top-flight strength and conditioning program.  "It's been able to transform my body.  The summer I came into Harvard I only weighed 240 pounds and now I'm up into the high 290s.  I had to do a lot of strength and conditioning in order to get those fifty plus pounds," explains Williams.  During the off-season, he continues to lift with his teammates four times a week.

While Williams' technique is considered to be superior at his position, he claims that he does not do anything special to stand out. "I just do what Coach Ron (Crook) teaches me - I follow his words, which are spot-on."  Williams describes his blocking technique as staying low and keeping a low base while continuing to drive his legs "until the whistle and the play ends," he says.  When it comes to blocking those that are bigger than he is, Williams explains that his technique does not change much.  "With people that are bigger than me, I just focus on staying lower than them in order to have leverage which negates their weight advantage."

Combining his strength on the field with his long arms is extremely important for Williams.  "My arms help me a lot because they allow me to stop defensive linemen from getting control of my chest.  That way I keep them away from my body which, in turn, helps me keep control of them for pass blocking," Williams says.  While he considers his long arms an attribute, Williams believes his strongest asset on the field is his intelligence.  "Preparation and learning help me a lot in the game because it helps me to learn plays and techniques easier, I believe." 

Despite the positive attention that Williams has received for his ability, he says he prefers for players at his position to not receive any attention.  "The best way to stand out is actually no not stand out because linemen usually get noticed when they make a mistake.  I think it's a good thing if you're not standing out." 

The reason that linemen are so seldom noticed for their efforts, Williams explains, is because,  "linemen aren't exciting to watch. Usually the most exciting part of the game is watching the quarterback and the running backs since they get the ball.  We rarely touch the ball unless something bad happens."  However, if linemen want to be recognized for their efforts, Williams explains that the best way to do that is to stay consistent and consistently execute technique.

Coach Tim Murphy echoes Williams' message of consistency saying, "Other than perennial NFL All-Pro Matt Birk, James has been the most skilled, consistent and productive offensive lineman we've had at Harvard in the 16 years we've been here. But what separates James from his peers is not his skills, but his toughness. He plays every play in practice and games with a toughness and attitude that wears his opponent down."

Williams says playing for the Crimson has been an extremely rewarding experience for him.  "Seeing the importance of delayed gratification and seeing the hard-work of the past four years paying off is great.  It doesn't happen immediately; that's an important lesson I've learned." 

Acquiring that special patience has been a virtue for Williams but his love and passion for the game of football are what keep him motivated during his career.  "Football has always been my favorite sport since I was a kid.  I have always had fun playing football whether it was in the backyard or a street game.  It's a passion," Williams says.

Personal goals are natural for any successful athlete, however, the individual goals Williams sets for himself are centered around his team.  Williams says, "My individual goals are to play every down as hard as I can, not to hold back anything, to play with reckless abandon. I also want to play with a lot of focus so that I don't make any mental errors." Williams believes he has to do this not only for his own personal benefit but also for the good of his team.  "Each player has to play to the best of his potential because that will dictate how we do as a team.  I care more about the team's accomplishments than my own." 

Williams hopes to continue his football career after graduation in the National Football League.  "It's something I want to pursue as much as possible.  It's definitely something I want to do."  However, before Williams moves on to pursue his professional career he has some advice for future players.  "Listen to the coaches because they tell us exactly what we need to do. It's just up to us execute it as players."  And as he was told by Frank Fernandez and Andrew Brecker - have fun!