A Cougar’s Courage: The James Williams Story
PULLMAN, WA —
Washington state running back James Williams is coming into his second year with a ton of praise from his coaches.
"As far as his age, he's as good as any I've ever coached. Going into his sophomore year, he might be the best one, I don't know,” says Washington state head coach Mike Leach
Going into his second year under coach Mike Leach... James said he's found his groove.
"I just feel more comfortable,” says Williams.
But being comfortable wasn’t always a privilege for James.
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, city with a violent crime rate more than double the United States average according to the FBI, James knew he was in danger.
"It was a super gang oriented place, and it wasn't safe at all. I didn't do all that crime stuff. But it was a time where it was nothing but Bloods in our area, so if I wore any other color, usually you just get jumped or shot or something,” says Williams.
To stay safe, he occasionally dressed in all red so gangs wouldn’t harm him.
Even though Toledo was all the Williams family knew, they had to get out.
In 2010, James and his family moved to Burbank, California, a Los Angeles suburb.
"My mom just pulled us out of school and we basically just started from scratch,” said Williams.
And the hard times didn't end.
James's parents, James senior and Genise, struggled to find jobs that payed enough for their three kids to live.
The family of five had no choice other than to live in a car until the tough times ended.
James and his family lived in a Chevrolet Trailblazer the whole summer before his 8th grade year, and most of the school year as well.
"We was wearing the same things basically, just changing clothes out of our car, and eating at recreation centers. It humbled us. I can say my survival skills are real good right now. But I don't take anything for granted. I know how to value a dollar. I don’t take anything for granted anymore," says Williams.
But while the Williams were struggling to find a place to live, James found stability in football.
He quickly became the best football player in Burbank, and with his superstardom, covered up his struggles.
"Nobody really knew in the eighth grade when I was homeless because I didn't say nothing. I didn't want to say anything because people just thought cause I was so good at football I was just never really be in that situation,” says Williams.
For about two years however, James and his family were able to move into an apartment.
But during his junior year at Burbank High, tough times came again.
Just three days before Christmas in 2013, Williams were forced to move back into their car.
This time around, football saved James.
He told one friend, a team mate, about his living situation, and that friend and his family came to help.
They let James stay at their house, and in return, James did chores around the house to make money so his parents and siblings could be together during the holidays.
At Burbank High, James was king on campus.
His junior year, he had multiple all league and section honors, and led the Bulldogs to the best season in program history.
His high school coach, Richard Broussard, one of his closest friends and mentors, says the most amazing part of James is even through tough times, he always payed the donation to be a part of the football team, and the entire team was inspired to rally around him.
"No one has anything to complain about anymore. They can't complain that they didn't have somewhere to lay their head at night. They were just upset that they were tired, they didn't have dinner on time, or that their girlfriend was being mean to them, or that their parents wouldn't let them go out that night or whatever. It put everything into perspective for a lot of kids,” says Richard Broussard, his high school coach.
Burbank High ended up losing in the division semifinals to eventual champion La Serna.
But just as James' football career was beginning to blossom, an injury almost ended everything.