Desire. It's a word thrown around so casually these days it tends to lose its "desired" effect. "He plays with desire" or "He has a desire to get better" are two of the most oft-used phrases used to describe athletes, and more often then not they're severe overstatements.
Dictionary.com defines desire as a "longing, craving or yearning for something." Now, most amateur athletes aren't "longing" or "craving" for anything -- more like "wanting" or "wishing."
We make this distinction in order to do Avery Williams justice. The junior athlete from Archbishop Curley epitomizes true desire.
"His drive is unreal," said Avery's older brother, Anthony, a senior at Curley. "I've never seen anything like it from anyone I've played with before."
Growing up, Williams used to watch highlights of Reggie Bush at USC. The 9-year-old would study Bush's footwork, his ankle-breaking moves, his hands, his routes. Then he'd go outside, grab a piece of sidewalk chalk and draw the USC playbook on the family's driveway. Afterwards, he'd run the designed routes until he looked just like the Trojans' star 'back.
When Williams finished his Bush impersonation, he'd go on YouTube and search for special training techniques. He'd watch some fitness freak do some insane workout, like 5,000 crunches and 1,000 pushups. But the very next minute Williams would be on the floor pumping out set after set.
"It's crazy, I just ddin't stop," Williams said. "I'd do anything -- and I'll still do anything to [improve]."
The training only accelerated when Williams reached high school.
When told he had to gain weight for football, he started downing steaks and protein shakes while spending his free time in the weight room. When told he wasn't quite fast enough, he began running track and taking daily 5-mile jogs. When told he couldn't hang with stronger wrestlers (he wrestles in the winter), he bulked up to 215 pounds and trained like a boxer preparing for a title bout.
"He did all that just because he wanted to meet the challenges and feel the pressure," Anthony Williams said. "He did everything to get better and prepare for football."
Problem was, Williams looked more like a jockey then a football player in the ninth grade. Sure, he was strong as an ox and better conditioned then most seniors, but he stood just 5-feet-4 and weighed 105 pounds.
"I though I could be like a punter or kicker or something," Williams said, laughing. "I still played Pop Warner ball, but I was way too small for high school football."
He wrestled instead. Going against other small-framed ninth graders, Williams dominated the mat. He learned how to use every ounce of strength and how to get leverage on bigger, heavier opponents. Most importantly, he learned how to go hard, non-stop, for an entire match.
"Wrestling could have been the best thing for him," said Curley football coach Sean Murphy. "His wrestling ability really helped him; he got that physical, no-quit attitude from it."
By Williams' sophomore year, he was ready for some football. Williams had "sprouted" up to 5-8 and had packed on a good 55 pounds to weigh in at 160. He still wasn't big enough for varsity, but at least he got to play jayvee ball.
But after one season of tearing through the underclassmen, it was clear he belonged on varsity. Then, in the offseason, he grew another two inches and bulked up to 180 pounds.
"I mean, I don't even know how I did it - I gained almost 80 pounds in less than three years!" Williams said. "I guess genetics probably had something to do with it."
Count Murphy among the impressed.
But where to play him? Williams' size and speed befit a cornerback or safety. But his hands made him pretty valuable as a receiver. And his toughness and open-field moves were ideal for a running back. Not to mention his wrestling skills and innate toughness made him an attractive defensive end or rush linebacker.
"I just went out and played - I didn't care where," Williams said. "It all kind of came natural to me."
Indeed, it seemed wherever Murphy put him during summer practices he excelled. But one thing became quite clear: Williams could hit.
So in his first game Murphy decided to start him at the one position where bringing pain is paramount: special teams gunner.
"It's our first game against C. Milton Wright, and on three straight kickoffs he shoots down the field and makes three spectacular plays," Murphy said. "He was 30 yards ahead of everyone else on our coverage unit and made these jarring tackles. That woke us up."
Williams said wrestling, the sport where he most excelled in ninth and tenth grade, prepared him for the rigors he faced on special teams.
"When you wrestle, you're out there by yourself, one-on-one with another man," Williams said. "It's do or die. Then on kickoffs, you shoot down the field by yourself and you have to make that tackle. Most guys don't like special teams, but I like being out there by myself, having it all on me to keep the returner in-check."
Of course, Murphy couldn't relegate a talent like Williams to just special-teams duty. Needing the most help on defense, the Friars' coach initially tried his young stud at linebacker. But when it became clear no one could block him - not even guys who out-weighed him by 20 pounds - Williams was moved to defensive end.
His first start came in Week 3 against Boys' Latin. Trailing 14-7 in the third quarter, Williams recorded back-to-back sacks to give the Friars momentum and the ball. The Curley offense didn't capitalize, but it was the beginning of a stellar run for the first-year varsity starter.
"Ask coaches in the league and they'll tell you he was probably the best defensive end in the conference," Murphy said. "He was just so quick and relentless coming off the edge. He made life miserable for opponents."
Williams recorded 58 tackles, five sacks, three forced fumbles and one recovery. He also blocked a punt on special teams and carried the ball 32 times for 328 yards and five touchdowns. It was enough to earn All-Conference honors.
"He was better than me and probably one of the most valuable players on our team," Anthony Williams said. "He's just more motivated then anyone else, and it shows up when he plays."
Plain and simple, Williams was a game changer. But while he made his presence felt throughout the year, one play in particular can he described as "season defining."
In a mid-October battle with eventual-champion Spalding, Williams single-handedly swung the momentum and spurred Curley to a huge 17-7 upset.
On the game's first series, Spalding handed off to All-State running back KK Smith. But before Smith even took the handoff, Williams was on top of him. He knocked the ball loose, scooped up the fumble and rumbled 14 yards to the Spalding 1-yard line. One play later, Curley scored a touchdown.
"That was the greatest play of my life," Williams said. "That hit changed everything."
Well, it was more then just that hit. Williams' entire season probably changed his future. No longer an undersized overachiever, the rising senior is not only the key to Curley's success, but he's also been dubbed a potential Division-I recruit.
"We have guys at Akron, Maryland, Duke and Connecticut," said Murphy. "Avery is on the same level athletically, and he's probably the most physical of any kid we've sent to the Division-I level. He's tremendous."
Granted, Williams is still a little raw at cornerback, where he's projected to play in college (there are no 5-8 defensive ends in D-I football). And he has to improve his 4.54 40-yard dash time.
But no one is doubting Williams. And no one is questioning his desire.
"It's been my goal since Pop Warner ball to play major college football," Williams said. "I will make it."