ORANGE PARK - With football athletes county-wide running, lifting weights and catching passes, retired Jacksonville Jaguar offensive tackle Maurice Williams had a simple message for a gathering of …
ORANGE PARK - With football athletes county-wide running, lifting weights and catching passes, retired Jacksonville Jaguar offensive tackle Maurice Williams had a simple message for a gathering of fall athletes; football, cross country and swimmers from around Clay County.
“Coaches do a tremendous job of getting athletes ready for the season; getting ready to go to battle,” said Williams, who spoke for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes kickoff dinner at Faith Baptist Church of Orange Park. “When I got to college (at University of Michigan), we had to run a mile and a half whenever we started our season. For the next four years, I had to beat that time each year and if we didn’t make that time, we had to keep running it faster at the start of each season. We were never told why we had to run that mile, but every year after that, I was fitter each year. We as coaches, parents, administrators have to teach athletes to not only be physically fit, but also be spiritually fit.”
Williams spoke at the First Baptist Church to fall athletes from all the Clay County high schools after a dinner provided by Southern BBQ. The event was the brainchild of John Green, a former principal in Clay County; Lakeside Junior High School and Orange Park High School, John Sgromolo, the Clay County Athletic Director, plus First Baptist pastor David Tarkington, an avid area sports fan and a scorekeeper for the Fleming Island High School basketball program.
“We were at the Hall of Fame football game in Canton, Ohio at the NFL Hall of Fame and they had an event there where all the local high schools; about 15-16 high schools, had their athletes listen to guys like Ray Lewis and Brian Dawkins from the Philadelphia Eagles, and they shared a message of Christian faith and football,” said Green, who took over the local Fellowship Christian Athletes two years ago. “I wish I had $5 for every person who said to me ‘If they just hadn’t taken God our of the schools...fill in the blank...they would have some bad thing going on in the school. I always answered that God never left. When I returned to Clay County after working at Bradford County, I found out that there was only one chapter of FCA here. I wanted to change that.”
Tarkington, an avid sports fan to all sports in Clay County, said this was a first step.
“I show up at your games because I love watching our kids compete,” said Tarkington. “This kind of event hasn’t happened in Clay County because nobody thought that it should happen in Clay County. We wanted to see so we invited everybody here.”
Williams’ career as a football star from a tough Detroit area upbringing, a stellar career at the University of Michigan where he was part of an NCAA championship as a freshman and two years of playing with Tom Brady as quarterback, got a draft pick by the Jaguars and a nine year career in the NFL; eight seasons with Jacksonville, one with the Denver Broncos.
“I started as a 6’-3”, 265 pound junior high kid that played basketball,” said Williams. “My high school was a perennial basketball powerhouse and the coach wanted me to quit playing football, but I didn’t.”
Recruited by a ton of NCAA powers; Ohio State, FSU including a meeting with legendary coach Bobby Bowden, Williams, a USA Today High School All American, chose Michigan, played with Hall of Fame Heisman Trophy winner Charles Woodson as well as Brady.
“All of a sudden, I was playing in front of millions of people,” said Williams. “When I had a good game against Penn State’s Courtney Brown, a future first round draft choice defensive linemen, I thought maybe I could play at the NFL level.”
Four years ago, Williams began serving as chaplain to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“I have come across a lot of athletes, I have seen a lot of athletes who have struggled with the new success of playing in the NFL and making all that money and having all that fame,” said Williams. “They were broke, depressed and even suicidal. I wanted to find out what made me different to maintain. It was my Christian faith; I embraced my faith. The Bible says ‘Be Godly’.” Ironically, it was a high school teammate who introduced Williams to the church in his community back in 1996.
“I didn’t grow up in church as a young athlete,” said Williams. “I had a friend who was all wild in high school, but he got saved and he asked me to join him at his church. That was where I got saved, a simple invitation.”
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