Note: The following appears in the Georgia Southern gameday football program
Statistics are a huge part of college football. How many passing touchdowns did Deshaun Watson have in his career (90)? Who holds the record for most tackles in a game by a Tiger (Keith Adams (27) vs. South Carolina in 1999)? What was the longest drive in terms of plays in Clemson history (20 vs. Virginia Tech in 1978)?
The above mentioned statistics could win a knowledgeable Tiger fan some rewards at a local trivia contest. But the numbers that matter most to graduate linebacker Jalen Williams are not statistics associated with the gridiron. Williams, a native of Columbia, S.C., who earned his degree in psychology in December, has achieved success that has defied the odds.
Williams was born in Columbia when his mother, Kimberly, was just 16 years old. A 2013 NCSL study reported that only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school, with just two percent earning their college degree by the age of 30.
The drive displayed by Kimberly, who graduated from South Carolina with honors by the age of 20 and raised Jalen and his two sisters, has shown #30 how important an education is. His mother still displays that same commitment, as she has taught in the Blythewood elementary school system for over 14 years.
“Without her, I would not be a success,” said the Tiger linebacker. “Statistics say a black teenager that has a child will have a hard time graduating and the child will struggle academically. Nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to my mom. One of my biggest passions for graduating from Clemson is her. She has proven what determination and hard work will accomplish.”
Sports played a huge role in Williams’ life when he was growing up. The love of football started early with a nod to Clemson greats from the past.
“I always had the dream of playing for a big Division I school,” said Williams. “When I was little, I wanted to play for a school that was on television every weekend like Clemson. I was bigger than my peers and played running back. “My cousin, Jordan Williams (junior linebacker at The Citadel), played running back. He was smaller and faster. We called ourselves ‘Thunder & Lightning’ like James Davis and C.J. Spiller.”
When Williams was trying to decide his college destination, an encounter at the Dabo Swinney Football Camp with defensive coordinator Brent Venables made his college choice very apparent.
“When I came to camp, I was planning on staying just one day, but I performed well during the drills with coach Venables. He convinced me to stay for a second day. When they offered me a chance to grayshirt and enroll, I knew Clemson was where I wanted to be. Since that day, he has been like a father figure for me. He has been hard on me and expects a lot from all of us.”
The opportunity to have Venables as his position coach has made Williams’ on-field experience special. The results cannot be overlooked.
While football was the reason Williams matriculated to Clemson, off-the-field opportunities have prepared him for so much more. He has been very active in P.A.W. Journey, which former Clemson linebacker great Jeff Davis directs from the Allen N. Reeves Football Complex.
“I don’t want to be defined in life by being a football player,” said Williams. “P.A.W. Journey sets you up to become a man and a success in life. This program puts us in so many places, whether it be meeting with CEOs of companies (Williams interned at Cisco Systems in Raleigh, N.C., this past summer with several of his teammates) or helping the less fortunate in a part of the world we have never been (Williams took part in a mission trip to Haiti two years ago).
“There are number of guys like me on the team who have never been able to travel outside of their hometown and see another part of the word. This has allowed me to be more cultured and prepared for the future.”
“When I think about Jalen Williams, I think about a fighter,” said Davis. “By that I mean he is willing to scratch and claw to accomplish the goals he has for himself. I am confident that in 10 to 15 years, he is going to be a leader who we can proud of, not only because of football, but for what he’s done in life.”