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A Story with 'A Fantastic Ending'

Andre Williams prepares to graduate from BC, having succeeded in the classroom as well as on the football field

“If I had it to do all over again, I would definitely come back to BC,” says Williams. “We are all so finite and small and we see life one day at a time. But at the end of it, when we get to see it from beginning to end, it’s amazing. Everything has worked out for the best.” (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Reid Oslin | Special to the Chronicle

Published: Dec. 12, 2013

Andre Williams is a record-setting football hero and a bona fide Renaissance Man who likens his Boston College experience to reading a good book.

“Sometimes you are just turning a page at a time and you can’t see the whole story,” says the soft-spoken Lynch School of Education senior, who just happens to be the leading rusher in college football this year. “But in the end, there is a fantastic ending.

“I think my career at BC has had a fantastic ending.”

Williams won’t get much argument on that fact. Not only did he run for 2,102 yards this fall – shattering all BC rushing records and posting the ninth-best individual season in the history of college football — but he has been a stellar performer in the classroom as well. He was chosen as a teaching assistant in a one-semester freshman core course, The Courage to Know, that is geared to help new students transition into college life.

The LSOE human development major writes poetry in his spare time, and is writing a book, tentatively titled A King, A Queen and A Conscience, that will chronicle his own experiences as a scholarship student-athlete.

Williams has also accelerated his own academic calendar, and is scheduled to graduate today, just three-and-a-half semesters after arriving in Chestnut Hill. He may become the only player in college football to pick up his diploma in the same week that he travels to New York City’s Downtown Athletic Club as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, to be awarded Saturday night to the top collegiate player in the land.

“I think he represents what Boston College stands for,” says BC head football coach Steve Addazio. “He’s a well-rounded guy. He’s a guy who values and cherishes his education, his opportunity to play major college football, and being part of a team.

“He’s not just all focused on football,” Addazio adds. “He’s got a lot of lot of different interests – just like a typical college student would have. I’ve been around a lot of different players in my career, and I think that when you have a guy that represents all of those things that we hold dear in college football, he should be held in esteem.” 

Williams, the son of Jamaican parents, didn’t think he had much chance of winning a football scholarship when his high school career was disrupted by his family’s move from Kennesaw, Ga., to Schnecksville, Pa., after his sophomore year.

“I had moved around so much that I was a little under the radar,” he admits. “Plus, I really didn’t like the recruiting process. It was so stressful – coaches would come to the school and take you out of class for an hour or hour-and-a-half, and then they would be calling our home every night.”

He had received offers from half a dozen schools – including Vanderbilt, Rutgers, Temple and Connecticut – when he made his official recruiting visit to Boston College during his junior year. “I liked it right away; it was a big school, but not so big that you could get lost in the crowd. I liked the location, right on the edge of the city. And I liked the players and the work ethic that I saw here.”

Once enrolled, Williams found an aspect of the University that was even more attractive to him: “They hold you to a higher level of excellence,” he says. “You are here for a reason. They really believe that you can be a real student-athlete. Being held to that standard has shaped me into a better person. You learn that you are capable of pushing yourself past limits and setting new, higher goals for yourself.

“I am glad that I was blessed with the opportunity to come here.”

Many others on campus share the same gratitude. “From the first day I had Andre in class, he impressed me as a deep thinker,” says Campus Minister Daniel Leahy, who teaches The Courage to Know class as part of First Year Experience. “He was always one who could identify a good question and take himself there.”

Three years later, Leahy chose Williams and classmate Catherine Guerrier to be the TAs for his course — which explores the “landscape of the college scene” and the transition to college life, he explains — this fall.

“I looked at them and thought they would be good role models, they would help the students ‘get into’ the course, encourage them to think deeply and learn to ask good questions. We talk about what it means to be a learner, and to be a learner at BC. What is a Jesuit, Catholic education all about? We share our stories and talk about faith, justice, relationships – all topics on campus.”

Andre Williams (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

Having a football star as a teaching assistant causes some freshmen to be star-struck, says Leahy. “They bring in posters and things for him to sign all of the time,” he laughs. “But once we start class and get down to business, they are impressed with Andre when he talks to them about the importance of being a good person.”

With his natural power, speed and football ability, Williams is a sure bet to wind up as a player in the National Football League in the future. But he feels he has even higher goals for his life’s work.

“I want to start a non-profit organization for children,” he says, “perhaps doing it from a sports-training base. Then I can work from there, mentoring children.

“There are so many other ways you can teach kids beyond teachers and books. They are learning from music, they are learning from television, they are learning from their friends – there are so many factors out there. Kids can benefit from learning from people who have been in the places they are trying to get to. They say they want to go to college, but how do they get there? Especially, say, inner-city kids who may not have the same life choices as more privileged kids.

“I think that you can go a long way by increasing a child’s social capital, and teaching them different things that you just might not learn by sitting in school all day.”

As he prepares to play his final game in maroon and gold during the bowl season, Williams says that he is still thrilled with his decision to come to Boston College. “If I had it to do all over again, I would definitely come back to BC,” he says. “We are all so finite and small and we see life one day at a time. But at the end of it, when we get to see it from beginning to end, it’s amazing,” he says. “Everything has worked out for the best.”