J. Williams goes out on teary, 2-TD note

Having thought of quitting, receiver gets redemption in his last game as a Terp

Maryland 41, West Virginia 7

January 02, 2004|By Travis Haney | Travis Haney,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Maryland receiver Jafar Williams scored two touchdowns in yesterday's Gator Bowl, a 41-7 throttling of West Virginia.

But Williams couldn't describe the first one, or the second one.

"I just can't talk about it," he said, a slight mist forming in his eyes at the mere mention of what has to be considered a career day - four catches for 65 yards and the two scores of 31 and 22 yards.

"I might start crying or something."

It's been that kind of a fall for Williams, one where his statistics were enough to weaken his knees and turn his stomach over a time or two.

Ten catches, 136 yards and a single touchdown. That's what the senior had going into the game against the Mountaineers. And a third of those yards and the score came in the Terps' final regular-season game.

"I was really happy to see Jafar make some plays today," Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said. "Here's a guy who a couple of weeks ago was really, really struggling, mentally and emotionally and everything else."

Williams came into 2003 with high expectations for himself. He was the Terps' leading returning receiver with a veteran quarterback, Scott McBrien, starting under center. The way Williams had it figured, it would be a year to send him out of College Park in style.

And one to perhaps vault him onto NFL draft boards.

But those prophecies were never really fulfilled. Williams began to get down on himself early on. He couldn't crack the starting lineup, and when he was on the field, the ball wasn't coming his way.

It was at that point, just before the Terps' Nov. 1 game against North Carolina, that he thought about hanging up his cleats and walking away from a game he'd played since he was a boy growing up in Philadelphia.

Friedgen called Williams into his office and told him he'd like him to stay, but ultimately the choice of what to do was up to him. Williams left even more confused and effectively pulled himself off the team. He wasn't in uniform for the Tar Heels game.

"I'd seen him down before," said Terps tailback Bruce Perry, who played with Williams at George Washington High. "But never like that."

After a week away and after numerous conversations with friends and family - particularly with his mother, Rasheeda - Williams knew what he had to do.

"I had a lot of people on my side," Williams said. "I don't know where I'd be without any of those guys, especially my mom.

"I just couldn't give up. I'm not a quitter; that's not who I am."

Williams returned the next week. He hauled in a 41-yard catch during the second quarter of the team's win over Virginia that changed the game's momentum. It was at that moment that his momentum shifted as well.

"That game really helped me," Williams said. "After I made that catch, I basically cried because there was so much emotion that I wanted to let out."

The emotional wave continued to crest in the Wake Forest game, in which he had his only touchdown of the year. That left only the team's bowl game, a time when Williams knew he had to shine - to prove to himself that he could overcome adversity and to prove to NFL scouts that he was worthy of their attention.

When he jumped into the stands to give his mom a hug and a kiss after the win, that signified mission accomplished.

"If this was his last game," Friedgen said, "this is something he'll cherish forever."

Williams is confident in saying that he hasn't in fact played in his last game, choosing to hope that maybe someday down the road he'll have another career afternoon at Alltel Stadium, the home of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"I think today showed that determination can take you a long way and to stick with things, even when times are tough," Williams said. "If you do, things will eventually play out your way."

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