Two-time All-American and 1985 graduate of Notre Dame, Larry Williams wasn’t always the biggest fan of football. It wasn’t until his freshman year in high school that he truly fell in love with the game. After being a high school standout in Santa Ana, California, the offensive lineman went on to have an outstanding college career and in 1985, Williams was drafted by the Cleveland Browns. Williams played in the NFL from 1985-1993, playing for the Cleveland Browns, the San Diego Chargers, the New Orleans Saints, and the New England Patriots. Currently, Williams is the Athletic Director for the Akron Zips. In this exclusive interview with FootballMatters.org, Williams opens up about his experiences throughout his life in football and how he’s able to advise his student-athletes using that experience.
Football Matters: What has football meant to you in your life?
Larry Williams: Football has provided me with a couple of things. One, it’s provided me with skills to work as a team member and has given me a full appreciation of being a part of a team. Second, it’s given me the skill of planning, preparation, execution, and evaluation. I call that a skill because it is now a system that is engraved in my thinking. It is a skill applicable to everything that I do professionally. Also football has provided me with a certain work ethic. A main component of any good football team is work ethic and I learned to have a much stronger work ethic because of football.
FM: What are some of your earliest memories of the game of football? Was there a defining moment when you knew that this game was something special to you?
LW: Let me tell you, it was not when I played Pee Wee football. To be quite candid, I did not have a good early experience as a Pee Wee football player, as I had a coach who was one of those raging lunatics. So I didn’t play again until I was in high school. While I was always a bigger kid than everybody else, it (playing high school football) was the first time I got to experience the opportunity of being an emotional and physical leader. So it was my freshman year in high school when I realized that this game that I thought was barbaric and crazy, could really be a good pathway to a lot of things in life. Freshman year of high school was definitely the time when the light came on for me.
FM: During that special freshman year of high school, was there anybody that you’d consider a mentor? Or anybody that got you back into wanting to play football?
LW: I would say the coach. A good coach in football is just so darn important. The coach we had at the time was just a good man. The funny thing is, we didn’t win one football game that entire year. But he was a good man and it was a time where I grew to love the game. We were 0-8-1. So when anybody asked us what our record was, we’d say, uh, eight and one.
FM: So you not only played football in college but you were a two-time All-American. Did you always know you wanted to play college football?
LW: Yeah, once I got into that freshman year (high school), I realized that I wanted to do this for as long as I can. You know, as a young teenager your sights aren’t very far reaching, so I set my sights on college and that’s about the time the light turned on for me. I sat down and I said, I really want to play college football. If you remember, at that time there were only a few games broadcast on Saturday and those network games had a lot of pageantry around them and that whole festival type of event was really attractive to me.
FM: After college you also played in the NFL for quite some time. Was that always a dream for you as well?
LW: It became a dream of mine. I wouldn’t say as a kid that was my number one dream but as I progressed through the game it became something that I focused more and more on. So by the time I was playing in college I was paying a lot of attention to it and I really wanted to take my game to the next level and participate at the highest level there is. To be candid I was shocked at how different of a game it was at the pro-level and ultimately how competitive it was. It was definitely an eye-opener.
FM: With all of the football experience you’ve gained over the years, what advice do you give your student-athletes when they come visit with you?
LW: I think it relates to whatever their particular issues are. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to live a life of many different experiences, a lot of which cross over to what our student-athletes are dealing with now. So depending on that student-athlete’s particular circumstances I can draw from that myriad of experiences and provide some insight. Ultimately I want the student-athlete to be able to see themselves as more than just a football player, or more than just a tennis player, more than just an athlete. They have a lot of skills. Many skills are sharpened through sports but my ultimate goal is to make sure that they can apply those skills and are thoughtful about applying those skills in their life beyond sports. Because if you have your life balanced beyond sports, good things are going to happen because you’ve been trained really well. You’ve just got to be able to make that transition from the playing field, the pitch, the court, you’ve got to make that transition to other parts of your life. So most of the time when I’m giving advice it relates to maintaining an appropriate balance between complete dedication to a sporting event and a full understanding that there is a whole other world out there beyond sports. We demand so much out of our kids these days that a lot of times they fail to see or appreciate that there are a lot of other things they need to be aware of beyond sports. I think our task as administrators in many cases is to allow our subjects to see beyond the sport and what the sport really means for them as a lifelong lesson as opposed to just the short time you’re in it.