Although he’s been preparing himself for this week since he first stepped on a football field his freshman year of high school, Ian Williams lives in the moment. He takes advantage of opportunities as they come to him and makes the best of what he’s given.
4 years ago, he realized that Notre Dame was the best fit for him as a school: “It kind of grew on me. The place, the guys on the team, the coaches, and the student body just grew on me. I just thought that it was the right place for me, the right fit for me, at that time.”
After entering the university, many of his teammates decided to major in business or liberal arts and science. Williams decided to major in Film, Television, and Theatre. When asked why he came to that decision, Ian stated, “I was interested in TV and film...I watched a lot of TV, I watched a lot of movies. It was just interesting to find out what goes into making a TV series or movie. Really, it’s what got me interested.”
His future may be in the NFL, but his past as a Notre Dame Football player shaped him and will remain a part of him. His favorite memory was the beginning of his career at the University: “I’ll probably say my freshman year: the first time I went in the tunnel and played Georgia Tech. You never expect to see a spectacle like that. It was just great to be in that moment—running through the tunnel...going out into the stadium with the people cheering, it was just a crazy scene, and that was one of the things I’ll never forget.” Now, he looks back in support of his former teammates: “I hope they make it to the National Championship. That’s their goal, and, as an alumnus now, that’s what I want to see them do. I want them to win. I’m going to do everything I can to support the guys....I just hope they grow up and make sure they get their degrees, and just play great football. I’m a fan now, so that’s all I can ask for.” He says that he’ll miss his teammates, the camaraderie, and the friendships he’s made at Notre Dame the most. 5 words he chose to describe his career at Notre Dame were, “short, amazing, impactful, memories, and friendships.” I asked him who he thinks will step up and surprise the fans this coming season. “Louis Nix. He’s one of the guys who’s been working hard for the past year and a half to get to where he is now. He and Sean Cwynar are really going to be a great duo. I really think Louis Nix will have a great impact on the season.” He also has faith in esteemed freshman recruit, Aaron Lynch. “Aaron is going to be a great player. I got to see him a little bit in practice and in the spring game, and he made a lot of plays. He’s young, he’s fresh out of high school, so coming out this spring he was ready to jump right in and get his feet wet, you know? I don’t know what Coach Elston or Coach Turner has for him in the fall but I know Coach Diaco and the whole defensive staff will try and get him out on the field.”
Speaking of coaches...
I asked him if it was tough playing under Coach Charlie Weis for three years and then having to adapt to Coach Brian Kelly’s style for his last year at Notre Dame. “It was kind of tough to get used to the coaching change. I think Coach Kelly and the new staff came in with a great mentality. Going back, I don’t regret losing Coach Weis, because he was a great coach—he taught us a lot of things and really brought the team together—but Coach Kelly came in and took us and taught us the same things, but we were older now and he made sure we had a good season.”
After a Sun Bowl victory on December 31, 2010 under Coach Kelly (one of only two Notre Dame coaches to lead the Irish to a Bowl Game and a victory in his first year), Williams played in the Under Armour ™ Senior Bowl for the North Team on January 29, 2011. With 5 tackles (4 of which were solo) and 1 sack, Williams led a very impressive performance. Opinions about the formerly underappreciated nose guard went from apathetic to raving instantly. “It was a great experience for me. I got to go up against guys who were just as big, just as strong, and just as fast as me, so it gave me a really good chance to go out there and see what the level of competition was outside of Notre Dame. It was a great moment to be out there and have fun with the guys, talk with the guys, and be able to meet coaches and scouts. It was just a crazy week that just went by so fast....I wish I could go back and play it all over, but I learned a lot from the Senior Bowl. It helped me grow as a player and as a person and to help myself be more humble.”
His performance in the Senior Bowl could have an effect on the happenings later this week, during the NFL Draft. “I’ll just say that I’m just waiting to get my name called. I don’t know if it’ll be on Friday or Saturday, but I’m just excited to live in the moment. My childhood dreams will finally be here. They’re just a couple days away, so I’ll just be down in Orlando waiting with my family and friends, just waiting for that phone call from a team and realize my dreams.” What does he believe is his best asset to a team looking to draft him? “My playmaking skills. I think my instincts to play the game are second to none....For every team in the league, the first thing they want to do is stop the line, and I think that’s my strong suit.” He started preparing himself for this week in his freshman year of high school, when he began football. He realized the draft was his dream—and it became his mother’s dream as well. He lists her as his role model: “She’s done a lot for me. She’s struggled for me. I’ve seen her do the best she can. She taught me everything I know, and who I am is who she’s brought me up to be, so that’s the lady I look up to.”
While Williams looks up to his mother, he realizes that others look up to him. He got to meet some of his fans on the weekend of the Blue-Gold Game and expressed his thoughts about it. “It was great to meet a lot of the people. I try to be as nice as possible to the fans because without them, the sport I love wouldn’t be so popular, so I try to pay my respects to them, sign autographs, and say hi to the kids. It’s just a great experience to meet a kid and make his day and hear him say, ‘I met Ian Williams!’ or, ‘I met Kerry Neal!’ or, ‘Robert Hughes!’...things like that. You know, it’s crazy to think that little kids grew up thinking that they want to be you one day.”
Some of the fans he met belong to The New Notre Dame Nation, and he noticed the positive impact that TNNDN had on himself and the team. “They’re just a great group of people who try to be positive about Irish sports and being a former athlete for the Irish now, I know that’s to a great advantage because there’s too many fans out there that are negative against us.” He realizes that the negativity is unhealthy for young recruits: “The kids who are 17, 18 years old don’t need that at the time. There’s too much already going on with school and football and social life, family, and I think The New Notre Dame Nation’s starting to be a really positive influence for them and my former teammates.”
In a few days, Williams will be taking his experiences as a Fighting Irish to the NFL. What city he’ll be taking them to is unknown still, but he will maintain the support of the Irish fans around the country. He lived high school in the moment, college in the moment, and, soon, he’ll be living his ultimate dreams in the moment. It’s who Ian Williams is.
Interview performed on April 25, 2011.