Back on offense, Williams is catching on

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2014

SALISBURY — The November 2009 first-round state playoff game in Granite Quarry between East Rowan and South Brunswick continues to impact local football. East Rowan won 14-11 in overtime in a fierce game.
While East Rowan head coach Brian Hinson would move on from that 9-4 season to become Catawba’s offensive line coach, two of South Brunswick’s players became major players at Rowan County colleges.
Kenneth White, the star running back for South Brunswick’s Cougars, is now a linebacker and the leader of Livingstone’s defense.
Then there’s South Brunswick grad Gary Williams. While he’s only 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, Williams has blossomed into a standout receiver for Catawba. Williams, the Indians’ offensive player of the week, sparked the team in Saturday’s 35-17 loss to Western Carolina. The junior had seven catches for 94 yards and reeled in a 20-yard scoring pass from QB Mike Sheehan.
Ask Williams about his high school days, and that East Rowan loss his sophomore year provides his toughest memory. Williams dropped a sure touchdown pass that would’ve changed the outcome.
“I was in the end zone, and I just dropped it,” Williams said. “That game still seems like it happened yesterday. It still motivates me.”
By his senior season at South Brunswick, Williams was an East-West All-Star. He was the State Port Pilot Player of the Year after scoring 21 touchdowns, intercepting four passes and making 72 tackles as a receiver/DB.
Williams was enough of a standout in the classroom in honors courses that he was recruited by Davidson, but his future home came down to UNC Pembroke and Catawba. Pembroke was closer, but Williams liked the environment at Catawba. Williams also met Catawba baseball coach Jim Gantt on his visit to Salisbury, and Gantt liked the idea of Williams, an all-conference shortstop for South Brunswick, contributing to Catawba baseball. Speed is always welcome. Williams has helped out the baseball team.
Williams’ background as a two-way football player has been a curse as well as a blessing as his college football career has unfolded.
He was too good to redshirt. He was a wideout in 2012, his true-freshman season. He played in every game and had his first TD catch against Brevard. He had four receptions against Lenoir-Rhyne.
When Curtis Walker arrived at Catawba as head coach in December 2012, the defensive back position was shallow.
“We needed help there, needed some depth,” Walker said. “I’d heard Williams had been an all-conference DB in high school, so we moved him to defense.”
Williams spent his sophomore season in the secondary. He was helpful. He made 28 tackles, broke up three passes, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and blocked a field goal.
Then he worked out diligently over the summer, trying to become a better defensive back. On the first day of preseason camp, he found out he was moving back to wide receiver.
“Even though I’d kind of trained all summer for the wrong position, I was pretty happy about it,” Williams said.
So far, he’s been better than good. He had a remarkable diving catch against Davidson. Next came the huge day against Western Carolina that gave him the team lead in receptions.
“I guess he’s showing us how stupid we were to move him in the first place,” Walker said. “He was a pretty good defensive back, but he’s a much better receiver. He gets yards after the catch, and he’s made play after play. He was fully extended on three of his catches in the Western game.”
Williams downplayed his big outing against the Catamounts.
“I just feel like if I can touch the ball, I should be able to bring it in,” Williams said. “I felt one ball rolling up my arm on a dive, but I was determined not to let it hit the ground.”
Williams’ intelligence helps him as much as his athleticism. He’s a film-studier, searching for weaknesses in his upcoming opponents.
“He works at it and he’s really showing up not only catching passes but blocking on the perimeter,” Catawba receivers coach Jordan Smith said. “He’s not big, but he’s very good at getting up in the air to catch the ball at its highest point. He’s become a go-to guy for us.”
The best is yet to come.
“I dropped that touchdown in high school,” he said. “I want that to be the last one I ever drop.”
Follow Mike London on Twitter at @mikelondonpost3.