Parents gone, lessons stay with son Dunbar linebacker is top college prospect

September 11, 1997|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

As he was growing up, Kirk Williams was learning to prepare for a time when his parents wouldn't be around. But that time came all too soon.

Williams, 18, lost his mother four years ago and his father in January. However, it seems the lessons taught by his parents have taken hold.

Williams, ranked among the nation's top high school linebackers, has come to Baltimore, moved in with his second cousin, Morgan State coach Stump Mitchell, and is getting on with his life as he enters his senior year at Dunbar.

"It was very difficult for me, at first, because my parents were also my friends," said Williams, a Florida native who enrolled at Dunbar on Feb. 3. "Every day, I wake up and kneel down beside my bed and thank God for the people who have helped me and for the motivation to go on."

Williams said his parents "always told me to take responsibility for myself because they wouldn't always be here.

"My dad was always on me to cook for myself, iron and fold my clothes, things like that, and my mom was always making sure I did my homework, cleaned house, washed dishes," Williams said. "There are things that I want to accomplish, and I'm reaching real hard."

Despite his losses, Williams said he wakes each morning with a smile on his face.

"He's funny, outgoing, positive and always seems happy," said Dunbar teammate Devin Murphy, "which is amazing considering what's happened in his life."

His mother, Virginia, died of cancer at age 48 when Williams was 14. His father, Edward, died of diabetes at 58.

Edward's death was more unexpected than Virginia's, coming a day before father and son were to watch the Super Bowl together.

"After my mom's death, we depended on each other for a lot of things," Williams said. "I watched him play in his amateur baseball games, and he'd come to all of my games."

Williams, a 6-foot-2, 245-pound linebacker, led his team, Hilliard High near Jacksonville, to an 8-3 record as a junior last year. He earned a variety of honors, including conference Defensive Player of the Year and selection to an all-area first team that covered much of northern Florida and part of southern Georgia.

"I tried to get him to stay, but after his father died, he had no family here. He was devastated," said Paul Whittenburg, Williams' coach at Hilliard.

While his sister, Toni, 21, returned to college, Williams stayed briefly with an aunt in Georgia. But he found he "wasn't doing well in school. The couple of friends I had were into the wrong things," Williams said.

Around that time, Mitchell's mother called him about his second cousin, asking if he'd take him in. Mitchell, 38, visited Williams in Georgia, eventually became his legal guardian and took him into his home.

Williams is rated among the best linebackers by Super Prep, Street and Smith's, USA Today and Atlantic Coast Football Authority. He has posted a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, bench-presses 340 pounds and has been known to separate offensive players from their helmets, if not their senses.

He has attracted interest from 14 major-college programs, including Notre Dame, Maryland and Kentucky.

"He's been vicious in our first couple of practices," Dunbar wide receiver Dahnel Singfield said, "just like the stories we heard about this guy: He can knock people's helmets off."

For Hilliard last season, Williams had 20 sacks among his 166 tackles, five fumble recoveries and three interceptions. Williams "came highly recommended to us by some good college coaches," said Super Prep editor Allan Wallace.

"He made our All-Regional team, and he came about as close as you can come to being one of our six All-Americans," Wallace said. "He's mobile, quick, was conference MVP and has a great chance of catching on at a Division I school. Apparently, he just needs to make some improvements academically."

Williams, who has not met the NCAA's standards for freshman eligibility, said he chose Dunbar because of its reputation for football (the Poets are two-time state champs) and for its success in getting athletes such as linebacker Tommy Polley (Florida State) and running back Ali Culpepper (Syracuse) prepared for big-time programs.

"Teachers like Ms. [Yvonne] Curbeam, she stayed on top of me, wouldn't let me turn in sloppy work," said Williams.

Not since Polley -- a two-time All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year and The Sun's Male Athlete of the Year in 1995 -- have the Poets boasted a defensive player with as much potential.

"Physically, Tommy was very athletic and was able to make hits one right after the other," Dunbar assistant coach Ben Eaton said.

Polley, a redshirt freshman, emerged as the Seminoles' top defensive newcomer after spring drills, according to Florida State's media guide.

"Kirk's got superior strength, but we've got him working hard on his aerobic conditioning, because with our numbers, he's going to have to play more than one position," Eaton said.

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