Written by: Kelli Fuqua Hart, Ocala Magazine’s Executive Editor
Photography by: Chris Redd
Not even one hour after the NFL’s Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Troy Vincent, declared, “The New Orleans Saints take PJ Williams,” Ocala residents were taking to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram with their celebratory proclamations. Picked up 78th in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, “Williams,” according to NFL journalist, Rich Eisen, “can close, is fairly physical and, like most Florida State athletes, was highly recruited out of high school.”
As a 4th-grader, Williams began his football career, having been motivated by watching his older cousin dress out, being inspired to follow the same path. That next year, Williams was suited up, embarking on a journey that would take him from youth football to Vanguard High School’s Varsity team to Florida State University’s Defensive MVP and ultimately to the National Football League.
With many successes, and yet some trials along the way, Williams persevered, earning a spot amongst 53 defensive backs at the 2015 NFL Combine. Several full days of skills, drills, interviews and psychological testing would separate the men from the boys, helping teams cull out who would have their shot and who wouldn’t. Williams earned his shot.
Just two months shy of the draft, as we sat down for this interview, I asked Williams who he predicted would go first. His confident response, “Teammate Jameis Winston.” When Williams traded his Ocala address for one in Tallahassee, his horizon was broadened. Winston was one of two teammates, including Buffalo Bills’ 2nd-round pick, cornerback Ronald Darby, Williams bonded with. Interestingly enough, all three young men will experience their first run through the tunnel this fall – this time, however, as opponents.
Williams anticipates a smooth transition into the NFL, taking things one step at a time. “I will be well prepared with my team, having everything in place for myself – agents, managers, financial advisers, etc,” claims Williams.
Who would have guessed this local Booster Stadium alumnus would, a few years later, be digging his cleats into the S5-M Synthetic Turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome? Luckily, Williams claims to find his hype in front of large, cheering crowds. I hope this is true, as he will find himself in front of over 75,000 “Who Dat’” Nation fans in just a few short months!
In that crowd, I anticipate we will find Williams’ mother, Lucretia Dixon, decked-out in her black and gold. In response to how she feels just 2-days following Williams’ draft, she says, “I feel as though I am the luckiest mom in the world to watch my son live his dream and build a big testimony – hard work works.” Dixon then adds, “Delayed but never denied.”
Williams offered some sound advice for any youngsters, faced with adversity but, who have dreams of bigger and better things. “Work hard and stay prepared. Separate yourself from anything standing in your way or leading you astray from your goal.” Williams goes on to say, “Stay positive and be positive. Just focus.” This advice is just part of what Williams plans to do with his new-found platform. Once settled in his new career, he plans to expand on his foundation, focusing on helping single mothers and creating opportunities that will keep youth in sports or working and off of the streets.
“I am very excited to be coached by Secondary Coach McGriff and Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan,” exclaims Williams. “I am ready to be a great pro!”
On August 13, Williams will experience the big time in his first ever preseason game against the Ravens in Baltimore. The following month, Williams and Winston will reunite, when the Buccaneers take on the Saints in New Orleans. For a full New Orleans Saints’ schedule, and for more on Saints’ football, visit www.neworleanssaints.com.