As dusk settled in Prince George's County last Sept. 4, Friendly High defensive end Chris Williams stood with his teammates before a sizable contingent of spectators. It was opening night, and Williams was decked out in his brand-new, jet-black jersey, shiny white helmet by his side. He puffed out his chest and a huge smile crossed his face.
This was his arena, his moment.
There's no doubt about it: Williams is a spotlight seeker. Put his face on a billboard; announce his name over the speaker system; heck, set off his silhouette next to the "bat signal" in Gotham City.
"I do like being the star and getting noticed," said Williams, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound rising senior. "I want to be the face of the team."
Cockiness? Arrogance? Ego? Sure, but hey, Deion Sanders made it work.
Williams is no Neon Deion, but his talent and athleticism are undeniable.
"He can play multiple positions, and what stands out about him is he's so quick and light on his feet," said former Friendly coach John Morgan, who left the school after the season to become Delaware State's linebackers coach. "The quickness probably comes from basketball. He's a mismatch as a tight end getting behind defenses, and on defense that first step can be lethal."
Lethal indeed. Last year Williams put together a potpourri of prominent plays. He recorded 40 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, an interception, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
He reveled in the sacks.
"Well, I like being the center of attention so of course I love those big sacks," Williams said. "That's my specialty."
Ironically, one of Williams' most memorable plays didn't result in a sack or get his name in the box score. But it was still a point of pride for Williams because he beat one of the best left tackles in PG County, Riverdale Baptist's William Ray Robinson.
"It was right before halftime and I noticed Robinson was leaning backwards and wasn't putting a lot of weight on his front hand," Williams said. "So I gave him a little rip, got by him and got to the quarterback. I tipped the pass and cased on incompletion. I was gearing up for [Robinson] all season, so to beat him that time was big for me."
Before Williams could bull-rush 340-pound left tackles, however, he had to learn the tricks of the trade. Williams was a virtual unknown coming into the season, a ball of raw talent waiting to be molded by the Friendly coaching staff.
In Williams' freshman year he didn't play football because his school didn't have a program. So he transferred to Friendly the next season. But he proceeded to watch from the sidelines and didn't do much to improve his game. Last year was the first time he dedicated himself to getting better.
"He had the skills, but we just had to get him motivated," Morgan said. "Now he's determined. He's a very smart young man and he's got one of those non-stop motors; he just keeps coming at you."
Williams, in an instance of humility, credits his coaches for his success. Without Morgan and his staff, Williams wouldn't know the first thing about rushing the passer.
"My coach has taught me a lot about technique, so I owe everything to them," Williams said. "I learned how to look for how a tackle puts his hand down in the turf. If he puts a lot of pressure on it, it might be a run play. If it's a lighter touch and he's leaning back, I'm thinking pass. I can tell which way he's going to move."
Diagnosing plays is only a part of being an effective rush end, however. All good pass rushers need a mean streak and most have some sort of personal motivation. Williams, for his part, thinks of his cousin, Jordan, an ardent football fan who has scoliosis and can't play the game himself. He channels Jordan on every play.
"I use him as my inspiration," Williams said. "When I think of how he can't play I sort of go into a zone; I get angry and play with a lot of tenacity. I take it out on the quarterback."
Once the game ends, however, all the pent-up anger dissipates. Off the field, Williams is known as a fun-loving, prank-pulling goof, not a raging basket case or a high-and-mighty jock.
"He's a great friend and a jokester," Morgan said. "He's always doing things to lighten the mood."
Before a practice last year Williams went into the locker room and located freshman quarterback D'Von Dorsey's shoes and shoulder pads. He proceeded to steal the laces and unstring the pads.
Williams still laughs at what ensued:
"So he goes out to practice and his cleats are flopping around and his pads wouldn't stay on," Williams said. "He got a lot of ridicule for that.
"I'm always doing stuff like that to put everyone in a good mood," Williams continued. "I'm very hyper, very sociable and I'm always talking."
Before Morgan left, he spoke with Williams about taking on a new role: team leader. Morgan told Williams he needed to work hard all the time to set a good example. When the team followed his (Williams') lead, Morgan implored, that's when he would be mature enough to advance to the next level.
"I think he understands now if he leads the team to success he'll be successful, too," Morgan said. "Achieving team goals will satisfy the personal goals."
That means more focus in the weight room and on the field. More importantly, it means a little less ego and a little more modesty.
"I do realize there are a lot of pieces to create a whole star, and I'm one of the pieces in the Friendly football star," Williams said. "And I know there is still a lot I can learn and improve on."
If Williams acts on his words, he's likely to be rewarded with a college scholarship. So far Syracuse, Rutgers, Duke and even Ohio State have requested game film.
Could Williams be the next elite player out of Friendly?
"It's hard to tell right now," said Morgan, who projects Williams as an outside linebacker in college. "By the end of the season we'll have a better idea how special he can become."
Williams has an idea. The way he figures it, he can be the team leader and the team star. And the stars always shine brightest on Friday night.
"Next year I'm thinking over 100 tackles, plenty of sacks and a few interceptions, too," Williams said. "I want to make it so the opposing team has to key on me, double-team me, fear me. I want it so when they look at game film during the week they say, 'That's the guy we have to watch out for.'"