At 6-foot-4 and 200-plus pounds with speed, mobility and agility, JJ Williams perhaps could have been a star wide receiver for legendary college football coach Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide.
Williams grew up in Montgomery, Ala., smack, dab in the middle of college football country, but he decided at a young age that he wanted to be a professional fútbol player instead.
“I’m a big Crimson Tide fan, so the idea was always in the back of mind about playing football at Alabama,” Williams said after a recent training session at the MLS Player Combine. “But soccer was the sport I loved. Throughout high school, the football coaches always tried to recruit me to play on the team and I would always respond with, ‘Maybe next year, Coach. Maybe next year, Coach.’ I appreciated their interest, but my focus was always on soccer.”
His interest in the Beautiful Game can be attributed to Katrina Wilson, a local woman who ran the soccer program at a nearby YMCA. Even though Alabama isn’t considered a soccer hotbed, Wilson introduced many Montgomery kids to the sport.
Explained Williams: “The environment in Alabama wasn’t great as far as playing soccer at the highest level, but playing at the YMCA made me fall in love with the sport and I’m most thankful for that.”
And why not?
Williams, an athletic forward, has transformed himself into one of the top prospects leading up to Friday’s MLS SuperDraft in Chicago. One trait of his that has likely impressed the pro scouts is his desire to want to leave a legacy in the sport he adores. It’s why he chose to play college soccer at Kentucky, even though he could have gone more traditional soccer schools.
Ironically, he grew up in college football country and chose to play soccer at a college basketball school.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I could make a difference; where things hadn’t been done before,” Williams says. “Why wouldn’t you choose a place where you can make an impact and help change history?”
Which is exactly what happened. Williams was third in the nation in scoring last season and led Kentucky to a program-record 19 wins and its first trip to the NCAA Elite 8. In the process, he was named conference player of the year, a first team All-American and MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist.
Now, Williams, the youngest of six kids, says he can’t wait to make a similar impact on the professional level.
“I think my physicality speaks for itself,” he says. “I also think my mentality as far as being competitive and creative at the next level will help me.”
“When you grow up as the youngest of six, you need to be competitive and creative to survive.”