Saturday, February 9, 2013

Williams Brothers Finish What Mother Started


By Zach Smart

 

It was a clear dark night in West Philadelphia when the electricity suddenly cut off in Terrance and Lawrence Williams' house near Malcolm X Park. Anita Whaley sent her two middle-school sons to call for help.

Terrance and Lawrence hurried to the pay phone just down the street. Suddenly, a gang of grown men enveloped them.

"That's my phone," Lawrence recalls one of the men saying, ripping the handset from Terrance's grasp. "You don't use it unless I say so."

Lawrence, who had already had a reputation as a quick-hit scrapper, answered the man's cold stare without a trace of trepidation.

That's when the man whipped out a revolver with a long skinny barrel, shoving the pistol directly into the kids' faces.

"I almost peed myself," Lawrence Williams recalled in a recent interview. "When he revealed what was in his hand, I went into a state of panic. My life flashed before my eyes."

The panic was temporary.

A ferocious voice boomed through the night, and there was Whaley, confronting the armed man.

"If I ever see you hoodlums giving my sons trouble again, you're going to have to deal with a lot more than just the cops," they recall Whaley yelling as the man put his piece away and retreated. "You're going to have to deal with me coming back here and whipping all your sorry asses."

Lawrence and Terrance, who say they've since committed their lives to shaping at-risk youth, break into ear-to-ear smiles.

"From that point on," Lawrence said, "we never had any problems on that block. Whenever those guys saw us, they asked us if we needed anything. If we needed any money, or clothes, or a ride to school."

It was their mother, they say, who steered them out of harm's way and showed them right from wrong. If it weren't for her courage, you might never have heard of Lawrence Williams, a star cornerback at Lehigh University and a NFL draft prospect in the spring of 2004.

You might never have heard of Terrance Williams - now on the doorstep of a professional boxing career - who piloted a Jim Dooley-coached Gettysburg basketball team as a versatile guard a decade ago.

Lawrence, 31, and Terrance, 29, have since settled in a house in Hanover twice the size of any home they've ever lived in. It also reminds the brothers of how far they have come from the hardscrabble streets of Philadelphia.

Family matters

The gangs, the shootouts that frequently jolted them out of sleep, the drug-addled neighbors and midnight marauders - ultimately led to the family's exodus from Philadelphia. In the summer of 1996, Whaley moved the family to Gettysburg, where Lawrence and Terrance were reunited with their older cousin, William "Chuck" Warren.

Warren - a cornerback at Dickinson College from 1993-1996 who was recently enshrined in the Adams County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame - provided yet another a positive influence that had a lasting impact on the Williams brothers.

"Chuck has been like a superhero to us," Terrance Williams said.

"He showed Lawrence what it took to go from a high school star to a legit college athlete, and there is a huge difference between the two. I think for me, he taught me a lot about the mental aspect of sports. He's been there every step of the way. He's also taught me what it is like to be a good father, as well."

"Bringing us closer to Chuck, who's had such a positive impact on our lives," Lawrence agreed, "I think it was the best move Mom ever made."

While Lawrence was away at Lehigh, Terrance was in Gettysburg to care for their mother, who was suffering from Lupus, a disorder of the immune system. Lawrence remembers the pain he endured one winter day when he traveled home to Gettysburg to visit Whaley and she didn't recognize him.

At the same time, Terrance was making a daily commute to Shippensburg University, the school from which he's now received two degrees.

"My aunts and grandmother were a tremendous support, and often sent me away from the hospital so that I could go do school work and make sure I was able to attend class," Terrance said.

Their mother's health faltered, but Terrance did not want his older brother losing his football focus.

A concerned Lawrence wanted to come home. He thought about transferring to Gettysburg College, but Terrance deterred him, and eventually their mother recovered.

"It got real bad at one point," Lawrence said. "But Mom is a fighter. I knew she was going to stick it out. She's been a fighter and a survivor her whole life. I don't think there is a stronger woman out there."

Recalling that time over a green tea at a Starbucks in Hanover, Lawrence paused.

"Hey T," he said to his younger brother. "I don't know if I thanked you enough for the commendable job you did when I was away. Thanks, bro."

Bethlehem buzzing

Lawrence heeded his brother's advice to stick out an arduous freshman season.

There were monstrous double sessions in the weight room. There was a new commitment to speed and agility work. Lawrence demonstrated a sharper focus on the Mountainhawks' playbook. He thoroughly dissected the style of receivers he'd be covering that season, examining their strengths and reciting their weaknesses.

Midway through his sophomore year, Lehigh reeled off a staggering 20-plus wins, surging into the Patriot League's upper-crust. Having arrived at pre-season camp stronger, faster, and having smarted from the wounds he sustained while buried on the depth chart, the Gettysburg graduate had found his way to a starting role at nickel back. Fortifying the secondary, Lawrence evolved into an All Patriot League defensive back as a junior.

As a senior, he solidified his status as a hard hitter. During a road game against Georgetown, Williams registered five tackles, picked off a pass and had a fumble recovery. He had a pick-six during a televised game against Towson, high stepping to the end zone as Terrance and Warren soaked in the moment.

"We were going nuts," Terrance recalled.

Lawrence Williams remembers former Lehigh head coach Kevin Higgins pulling him aside before one practice.

"You're heating up," Lawrence remembers Higgins, who spent time as the quarterbacks and wide-receivers coach for the Detroit Lions, saying. "You're at the point where you can get paid to play this game."

As a 5-foot-10, 205-pound cornerback, Lawrence was bent on proving himself as pro-ready. His grit and mental toughness were evident in the weight room.

NFLdraftscout.com had Williams ranked 85 out of 115 cornerbacks with draft potential. Williams had met with New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin. He sat down with Philadelphia Eagles personnel. The Arizona Cardinals also expressed considerable interest.

"The Giants were interested," Lawrence said. "That didn't mean they were going to draft me, but they were interested."

But there was one glaring issue. During the second semester of Williams' senior year, he underwent surgery on his right knee. It hindered his mobility.

"My senior year, I took the (NFL) wonderlic test," said Lawrence. "Behind the scenes, I'm not sure if people know what it's like. They really treat you like cattle. They measure your wingspan, they measure your wrist. They measure your butt. They try to move your body parts all around, but they saw the weakness that the microscopic surgery had on me."

Rewind the clock to April 25, 2004. It was the final day of the NFL draft. Lawrence Williams was sprawled across his dorm room bed, his eyes glued to the television screen.

Watching the names being selected from the screen, watching countless players step behind the podium and squeeze the NFL fitted cap - with the team logo emblazoned across the front - on their heads, Williams battled rushes of nerves. He dialed up his agent numerous times.

The laundry-list of names continued. Williams waited, waited, waited. He made a weak attempt at self-distraction, logging onto AOL Instant Messenger and dishing out a few texts to friends.

His mind wouldn't wander.

Williams dialed up his agent again. The phone rang several times. No answer.

Lawrence Williams' name was never called.

He chucked his dorm phone across the room. He turned off his cell phone, logged off AOL, took a few deep breaths, and went outside.

Staring up at the sky as rain erupted, Lawrence Williams' thoughts morphed into words.

"God does not want me to play football anymore," he remembers saying aloud. "Instead, he wants me to teach and coach."

 

Giving back

At River Rock Academy in Palmyra , Lawrence has served as an alternative education teacher and helped shape at-risk youth. Terrance works as a child therapist at the Hoffman Houses in Littlestown.

Both try to get similar messages across, illustrating that the power is in the pencils.

Before Lawrence's gig as an assistant coach at Dover, both Terrance and Lawrence were volunteer coaches for the Gettysburg middle school basketball team. On the team were a boatload of athletic youngsters, including Evan Lewis, who recently wrapped up a four-year football career at Penn State.

The Williams brothers said Twitch Athletics has the potential to turn out a crop of top-flight athletes with the same hunger, drive, and mental savvy as Gettysburg's Lewis

During their time coaching basketball, the Williams brothers' ingrained in their players an original commandment list, which hung from the locker room wall. It was called the "Ten Hoops Commandments," Lawrence recalled.

"One of the commandments was 'thou shall not ..."

"'Not know how to play tight D,'" Terrance chimed in, with laughter.

Terrance Williams has been training religiously with trainer Ricky Clark in Harrisburg. On days when he's not sparring, it's Lawrence who puts him through a rigorous workout.

"We want to prepare athletes in this area for the next level," Lawrence Williams said.

Their mother, Anita Whaley, helped show the Williams brothers a more promising life. She taught them life values. She showed them right from wrong. She taught them to never give up and never let anyone push you around.

Now, the Williams brothers want to instill that same never-say-never mentality into this area's athletes. They want to give back to a community their mother made a key decision to bring them to.

"We want to teach them how to maximize their athleticism and prepare them for when they cross the threshold into the world of Division-I athletics," Lawrence Williams said. "This area has turned out some talent, no question, but we feel there's work to be done. We want to raise the bar. We want these athletes to grow and prosper."

Terrance and Lawrence Williams continue to finish what their mother started.