To most nose tackles, James Williams looked like a menacing muscular tower, the kind you don’t want to anger. A brute 6-foot, 310-pound captain, the recent St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes graduate anchored the Saints offensive line, while also splitting time bull rushing the quarterback as a defensive tackle.
"I kind of saw myself as the leader of my grade, my class," Williams said. "I felt like I’ve been leading silently when I can."
But behind the mean façade and 320-pound bench press, according to wrestling coach Joe Shabelski, is a gentler thought-provoking athlete, who spends his leisure time in the math and French clubs.
"He’s a big teddy bear," Shabelski said. "You wouldn’t think he’d be a tough person on the wrestling mat, but when he gets in an athletic competition, he can turn it on. He’s tough as nails."
Before dabbling in wrestling as a heavyweight for the first time, Williams was the linchpin for the run-oriented Saints football team. Behind senior running back Isaiah Carpenter, who averaged over eight yards per game over the first six games, SSSAS opened the season 5-1, including four straight wins to open the season.
Williams cited a home 16-13 victory over Woodberry Forest as a season highlight, and was content that the Saints traveled to Liberty University in the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association semifinals.
As a wrestler, Williams knew little, other than that fact that he had to drop almost 30 pounds to get under the 285-pound heavyweight threshold.
"It’s easier for a guy like me because I’m so big already than it is for a little cat," Williams said. "Wrestling was all the exercise I needed. By allowing the coaches to do what they wanted with me, I pretty much got it done."
He proved to be a quick student, catapulting himself to a third-place showing in the Interstate Athletic Conference tournament and a seventh in the VISAA tournament by season’s end.
"He’s really smart," Shabelski said. "He came out in late December and had never wrestled before. We were estastic with how he did. He became one of our leaders and the kids really gelled with him."
Williams parlayed the momentum into baseball season, where he was a starting first baseman for a team that started the season with nine straight wins. The baseball team finished 20-6 under second-year coach Jim Supple, one of the best in school history.
"We were always playing in big and important games and you can’t ask for anything more than that," Williams said." We felt like this was a season we were ready for and was a long time coming. We were definitely happy with our record and what we did this season."
<b>THOUGH HE HAD</b> opportunities to pursue a football career, Williams, who maintained a spot on the Head’s List (A average) or Dean’s List (A/B average) throughout high school, chose to follow his sister at Amherst College.
"I feel like it’s a perfect fit for me. I feel like if she wasn’t there … I’d still want go," Williams said. "I got to see some stuff that the normal high school senior doesn’t normally get to see."
Amherst is a highly selective, private liberal arts college in Amherst, Mass., one that certainly saw Williams’ afterschool activities as an admission plus.
At SSSAS, he was a member of GUILD, a signature service organization who run annual food and clothing drives. Williams also spent time last summer working with Habitat for Humanity.
"If you want to get involved, you can," Williams said "I feel like I’d be selling myself if I didn’t engage myself in at least a decent number of activities."
Williams, who plans to spend his summer working and relaxing, was excited to finally don his graduation cap.
"You’re really excited and that you deserve to be there and have worked hard to end up in some way or the other at that graduation, but at the same time it’s sad because you’re not really ready to let go of everything," Williams said.