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But loneliness set in at home. In addition to coping with two deaths, Williams was apart from older brother Jordan and younger sister Natalie, both of whom left Florida to live with their father (Williams’ stepfather) in Alabama.
“I had someone at home, but no one can replace your parents,” Williams said. “No one puts in the same amount of effort.”
In retrospect, Williams takes a share of the blame for his academic troubles.
“I could have done more myself,” he said. “I didn’t have anyone telling me every day to work out, but I still did.”
As a sophomore, Williams again took all-state honors by placing ninth in the 100. But his junior year ended with a thud. Williams admits now he “was being more of a Terrell Owens,” the brash, selfish former NFL wide receiver.
Moore cut Williams from the team, his first such move in 12 years of coaching. Moore, unsure how Williams would respond, called it the scariest moment of his career.
“It hurt,” Williams said. “I was ticked off at him. I could’ve switched schools and ran, but it was time to be a team player.”
Moore’s next contact with Williams came via text message in December. It read, “Merry Christmas. Just thinking about you and your family.”
“I was glad he reached out,” Moore said. “I read into his message that he had matured.”
Moore welcomed Williams back to the track team this spring, though both agreed that past drama might make being a captain not an ideal fit. Williams understood.
“I always wanted to be a captain, but that doesn’t mean you’re a leader,” Williams said. “All my life I was told I was a natural born leader.”
Those closest to him are seeing a difference in Williams this school year. Lisa Jensen, dean of Washburn students in the 10th and 12th grades, helped Williams get back on track academically. He spent two hours per day in her office making up school work.
Jensen remembered Williams as a freshman who “stood out as a student full of energy, warmth and life. I felt he had a bright future,” she said, one “that’s starting to come out again.” Jensen wrote Williams a letter of recommendation to college, touting him as “one of the most trustworthy students I’ve ever known.”
“He had everything taken from him,” Jensen said. “The resiliency required for him to get to this point is phenomenal.”
Looking ahead to Friday’s graduation ceremony, Williams envisions both his mother and grandmother cheering when he receives his diploma. Catherine Williams was the first black probation office in Hennepin County and a community leader who enjoyed working with youth.
With four years’ worth of lessons to draw from and opportunity ahead, Williams feels closer to finding his own path in life.
“As I get older I feel like I’m making better sense of everything.” Williams said. “Life doesn’t pity anybody. Life will care about you, but only if you care about yourself.”