BRADENTON — Crime. Homelessness. Jail.
They were Todd Williams’ life.
Playing offensive line for Florida State’s 1999 national champions and the NFL Tennessee Titans.
They were his life, too.
“I knew what it was like sleeping behind Dumpsters,” said the massive 1998 Southeast High graduate. “But I had a vision for my life. That propelled me.”
Two hundred teen-aged members of the Gulf Coast Fellowship of Christian Athletes listened raptly as Williams spoke Tuesday at Manatee PAL, which hosted a 7-on-7 football tournament.
“I’ve been where some of these kids walk,” he said in a crowded cafeteria. “I knew what it was like being on the streets, not having anything. I was tired of that. I wanted peace, hope, something to strive for. I saw myself successful at something in life.”
Beset by the deaths of his mother and grandmother, Williams was a repeat juvenile offender at 14 until a network of clergy, coaches and community people helped him get his life on track.
One was Dave Marino, then Williams’ line coach at Southeast,
“Everybody’s going to have adversity in their life. Todd never let it get best of him,” said the Palmetto High head football coach. “He kept working, kept believing and achieved everything he wanted to achieve.”
Williams had three years for the Titans, brief stints with Tampa Bay and Green Bay, then played in the Arena and United Football Leagues.
He also has degrees in criminology, political science and sociology and seeks a career in law enforcement.
“These kids want to go as far as athletics takes them. That’s fine. I’ve done that,” he said. “But I want these kids to understand that if you can’t go to the pros, what about your education?
“I want these kids to believe in themselves and work hard, because it’s so easy to quit, give up. It was when I started believing in myself things changed.”
Williams’ words made an impression on his young audience.
“For him to be on the street at 14, that’s not right,” said Palmetto’s Tyrone Johnson, 16. “Life isn’t going to be easy, but you’ve got to get over it, move on, be all you can be.”
Southeast’s Adrian Richards related to Williams’ message.
“Stuff he went through is every-day life,” the 18-year-old said. “If you don’t give up, do your best, you’ve always got a chance.”
Bradenton Christian’s Aaron Cobb was inspired, too.
“Sometime I get let down and just pray for wisdom, to give it all I have,” the 16-year-old said. “You’ve got to keep going.”
Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 745-7055.