Jovontay Williams is a beast of a football player. In his two seasons at Johnson C. Smith, the defensive end’s Golden Bulls teammates reverently called him “Big Play Tay.”
In 2013, Williams had 12.5 sacks and became the first All-American selection from Johnson C. Smith University since De’Audra Dix) in the 2008 season.
Jovontay Williams: My teammates always say, “Tay you come through in the clutch.” Now, don’t get me wrong I have big games like when I got four sacks against Davidson, but it’s just certain drives or a critical series when we need that sack or a tackle for loss and the whole team puts it on my shoulders. One game it was halftime and we were losing. One of the linebackers was like, “C’mon Big Play Tay.” That’s where the name was born.
Being acknowledged as a football star was the basics for Williams, who never struggled on the field, but often fell victim to the complexities and hardships of life.
JW: It was just lack of focus and not living football. I just wanted to do everything else but work on my craft because I felt like I was just one of those guys that was good enough already. I didn’t have to practice...you know just being real young. Not taking my talents and my education as seriously as I do now.
Sometimes it takes you digging a deep hole for yourself and looking back and saying. “Dang, if I would have done this or that differently I’d be in a much easier position.” Those ifs are what make you better as a human being because if I didn’t have some of those ifs there’s no telling where I’d be right now. I thank God that he made me recognize what I was capable of doing and where I was going wrong at, so everything opened up and I’m here now just thankful to be mentioned in someone’s draft or on someone’s board if I am.
Williams entered Johnson C. Smith as a guy who had the world at his fingertips and let it slip through his mitts. Williams was a highly-touted recruit coming out of Redan High School in Georgia. He was heavily desired by upper echelon D-I programs like Illinois, Louisville, Marshall and Virginia Tech. Most thought he was a shoe-in to play for the Hokies.
Instead, his circuitous path ultimately landed him back home in Charlotte, where his football career began at age five. HBCU’s are typically suited for athletes who weren’t good enough to go D-I or guys like Williams, who just couldn’t keep it together long enough to receive his D-I blessings.
JW: I was going through some different stages in high school and I basically dug a hole for myself and obstacles kept me from going to Virginia Tech. Luckily it wasn’t deep enough that I couldn’t get out of it, but eventually God blessed me and I was able to go to a junior college.
Williams attended Garden City Community College in Kansas and had to leave there he tells The Shadow League.
JW: The reason I left was because I didn’t feel the system. I was undersized running the 3-4 and they didn’t want to put me at outside linebacker, where I would have excelled the most, so I felt very uncomfortable there. But I did a good job. I made the 12-man roster and stuff.
After his stint in Dorothy’s hood, Williams bounced to another JC—Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, Arkansas. That situation wasn’t a solid fit for Williams either, so he packed it up and brought it back to the crib. Back to the temptations of the block and the meager opportunities “home” provided. The silver lining was that Williams was returning to his mom, his inspiration in life.
JW: I was out there (Arkansas) for a whole year, from 2010 to 2011. Then I went back home to Atlanta and started working to help my mom out and trying to get myself back together. My family is originally from Charlotte. My mother moved back here a few years ago and I was in the process of trying to get back into football because I know the streets ain’t got nothing for you out here man. My mom was like, “Give Johnson C. Smith a try.”
So my uncle who was a Q-Dog (member of Omega Psi Phi fraternity) spoke to former head coach Steve Aycock. I walked on in 2012 and I played in the 2013-14 season.
Williams blossomed into the player that a host of D-I colleges thought he’d become out of high school. He finished the season ranked third in the nation (NCAA Division II) for Pass Sacks per Game, second in the CIAA for Total Sacks (12.5 sacks) and Forced Fumbles (3) and racked up 14.5 tackles for a loss of 103 yards. He was finally on the radar as a potential pro prospect and was mentioned in ESPN and was voted a Shadow League Defensive Standout.
Williams says his game favors two other “undersized” NFL ballbusters in Tamba Hali and Robert Mathis.
JW: Robert reminds me of my body structure so much. He’s a small, wrecking-ball of a guy who stands about 6-1 260, but is explosive off the ball and can get around that corner real good.
Then you have a guy like Hali, a great guy with his hands. That’s something that I use a whole lot now is my hands. Even though I can dip and rip too, there’s something about using your hands to get a guy off you and that reminds me of my game play when I see those guys.
JCSU gave Tay a platform to express his football artistry, but it also provided an academic atmosphere that was conducive to his lifestyle. He grew as a person in the protective, embracing and multi-faceted HBCU nest, where athletes are taught the importance of balancing football and other aspects of life.
JW: Johnson C. Smith was great. It was...let’s just say, something I’m used to. We don’t have some of the best facilities or certain resources but it just makes us grind harder. That’s how I grew up. Also I came in older so a lot of guys were looking up to me and for the first time in my life I had to take on that leadership and big brother role.
I learned how to accept teammates more. Because at first my mind state was like let me get in here, do what I got to do so I can get to the next level. But when I got here, I met some real brothers…just actual, genuine love that I wasn’t getting and I felt it. They helped me realize a lot about myself. Going through this situation has changed me.
Williams is growing, but he’s also still digging himself out of that early hole of immaturity as the NFL Draft approaches. NFL scouts aren’t totally oblivious to the 6-foot-2, 260-pound DE, but his agents haven’t heard a peep from potential suitors.
JW: I’m just leaving it in God’s hands because I haven’t been getting any calls. I haven’t been getting any interest. Nothing man. A lot of guys have been saying that their agent is getting this call and that call and I been like, “Man. I know I’m not a sorry chump. I’d actually be really good for somebody.”
I just stay positive and make sure I do what I got to and don’t worry about anybody else’s business but mine. At first I was letting other people get into my head and I was calling my agent asking him, “What are you doing? Are you talking to anybody or anything?”
Tay says he smashed his lone pro workout with his hometown Carolina Panthers.
JW: The defensive line coach told me I was great. I made sure every drill I did was done properly. I made sure I stayed low and showed great footwork. I tried not to stutter step and executed the little things that showed that I had perfected everything. My coaches also told me I did a good job out there, but my agent hasn’t told me anything.
He’s not going to wig out if his name isn’t called on Draft Day.
JW: I’ve been through adversity my entire life. I always had to come get it and grind and get everything out the mud. Nothing was ever handed to me. I’m ready for this process and at the end of this weekend we’ll see how everything goes. If I don’t get a call from a team then I’ll make sure I stay in shape, get me a job and do what I got to do. It’s just another bump in the road for me. When I get on anybody’s field I know they are going to love what they see. I just have to be that guy to creep through the back door.
Williams says when he does get that shot, he has much to offer any NFL squad.
JW: I bring a mature mindset. A guy that’s been through the struggle and a guy that knows how it is to get something taken away from you in an instant. So just know I’m going to be there every day in and out the weight room – especially with the facilities the NFL has. I’m not used to those A-1 top facilities so I’ll be there so much, the guys will be like, “Tay man, you got to go home.” I tell you, I’m in there trying to watch film every day. I’m using the saunas. I’m using the ice baths. You know some guys from Division II HBCU's, we ain’t used to that. I can’t just go into my coach’s office and tell him I need to watch film.
Some teams are naturally going to front on Williams and question the level of comp he devoured at the Division II level, but to his credit, Williams was dominant at that level and demonstrated an elevated skill set that projects very well to the NFL. He’s also an older NFL prospect at 26-years old, so he’s all about business. He understands that his margin of error differs from a wide-eyed, 21-year-old and has already endured a tumultuous stretch of misguided youth.
According to scouts, Williams projects as a backup defensive end in a 4-3 defense. He could become a coveted situational pass rusher in the NFL and if he can improve his run stopping abilities he could eventually develop into a starting defensive end in a 4-3 defense. The talent, aggression and athleticism have been there. The attitude and leadership has arrived. Now Williams needs a shot to prove his NFL game is golden.
JW: I know that it doesn’t work that easily, so if God gives me the opportunity to get to any organization where I can take advantage of those improved resources, then trust me I’m going to be the best player I can be. Hopefully I’ll make it to the Pro Bowl somewhere because all the work you put in eventually comes to light. And I'll be a guy that’s in there working 24-7.