Williams succeeds in the pool, classroom

January 29, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

Russell Williams is not fussy about who he has on his Lake Clifton swimming team. He'll take anybody in the school.

He'll even take football players. He took Kenneth Williams, and now look at him. Kenneth Williams is the fastest freestyle sprinter on the team.

"Coach thought I couldn't swim a lick when he asked me to come out after my sophomore football season," said Williams, who is not related to the coach. "But I could stay on top of the water. I grew up swimming in the creek at Herring Run and in city pools like Patterson Park."

But Williams, now a senior, is more than a leading swimmer, more than a 215-pound running back who last fall gained 1,342 yards, breaking the school record set by Eddie Payton in 1980.

He is a glowing example of Lake Clifton's mentor program initiated by coach Williams and counselor Michelle Yates.

"We have a lot of gifted athletes here, but not as many are getting into college as should," Yates said. "They wait too late before realizing how important grades are. Kenny didn't start early, but he has picked up the last two years. We point out to freshmen that if they want to attain what Kenny has, they have to start now."

By his own admission, Williams "didn't have myself together" in his first two years at Lake Clifton. He buckled down, raised his grade-point average to 2.8, recently exceeded 700 on the Scholastic Assessment Test and has attracted the interest of Wake Forest, Pitt and Boston College.

Lake Clifton teachers tell Russell Williams that Kenneth is the school's best student-athlete since basketball player Thomas Jordan in the mid-1980s. Jordan went to Oklahoma State and then played overseas.

Now Kenneth Williams is mentor to Darnell Pearsall, a freshman who was the starting fullback and who will, if Russell Williams has his way, swim next winter. The idea is for Pearsall, by concentrating on his studies now, to match or surpass Kenneth academically.

"I look up to him," Pearsall said, "in school as well as on the football field."

Russell Williams, also an assistant football coach, urged Kenneth to join the swimming team for several reasons, not the least of which was that he was a good athlete who eventually could contribute points.

"Just as important, I wanted to keep an eye on him," Russell Williams said. "It's a tracking system, a hands-on approach to keeping a kid out of trouble and his grades up.

"Some people think swimming is an easy sport, but it's very difficult. The ones who stick with it benefit in several ways."

One way: A summer lifeguard job at Clifton Park under Russell Williams, who happens to be the pool manager. All of his swimmers can have lifeguard jobs there.

Kenneth agreed to swim because he thought "it would be fun and a way to stay in shape" for football and baseball. His coach instructed him in proper stroke technique.

Like the butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke, which he now swims well enough to score points for Lake Clifton.

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