High School Football

He struggled with school. Now he’s set to graduate and is starring for Palmetto football team

Kevion Williams was in Palmetto High’s parking lot alongside friends and teammates when he checked his SAT score in October.

The result was a shock.

Because it meant he was doing something that seemed impossible a couple years ago: preparing to graduate and getting ready to play high school football in the playoffs.

“I saw the score and I jumped out of the car and said, ‘Let’s go!’ ” Williams said. “I was crying, I was happy that I passed.”

Williams spent his junior season academically ineligible. His grade-point average dipped to 1.96, and all he could do on Friday nights was watch his teammates.

He worked out to stay in shape, but football, he said, meant everything to him.

And suddenly it wasn’t there.

“It hurt a lot,” Williams said. “I cried the first game just watching everybody playing, and I was just sitting and watching it.”

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Kevion Williams, senior defensive end for Palmetto football, in practice Tuesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

The pain from seeing his teammates play last season and in the spring when college coaches came around and they couldn’t talk to him because of his grades only fueled him.

He slowly worked his way to catching up — through attending school every day, staying late to make sure his work was done and sitting in the front of the classes he attended — before his GPA rose and he took the September SAT test at Manatee High.

When he passed, Williams couldn’t wait to share the news with his coaches.

Overcoming his academic struggles isn’t the only adversity that Williams has encountered.

When he came home one day after school at Buffalo Creek Middle, Williams found a sign on the front door, which was locked, because his mother gave him up.

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Kevion Williams, senior defensive end for Palmetto football, in practice Tuesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

“I was just sitting there for a couple hours,” said Williams, who was in the eighth grade at the time. “Somebody came and picked me up. ... I was just sitting there in the police station and my grandma came and got me, and I just moved in.”

Williams said he sees his mother once a month, and she explained to him she was going through a lot and “went crazy.”

“I just cried, like, ‘Dang, she just quit on me?’ ” Williams said. “I didn’t know how to feel about it. I cried the whole time.”

Then Williams’ dad died during his freshman year.

“It was horrible for that first month, it was just horrible,” Williams said.

Williams wears No. 11 in honor of his father, who wore the number when he played.

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Kevion Williams, senior defensive end for Palmetto football, in practice Tuesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

But he said he feels blessed to have his grandmother. Williams has three brothers and three sisters, too.

While Williams said there was a point when he wanted to give up on school, he didn’t succumb to the thought. He continue to grind and received the support of his teammates, coaches and family.

Now he’s part of a Palmetto team that went 9-1 in the regular season and won the Class 6A-Disrtict 12 title — and an integral part at that. Junior colleges are hot after his talent as a starting point for college football once he graduates this school year.

“That’s one of the big differences between last year’s team and this year’s team,” Palmetto head coach Dave Marino said. “We said we played a big-boy schedule, but we really didn’t have big boys. Now we’ve got a big boy. We were counting on him big time his junior year to be a player for us, and it’s one of those things that didn’t happen.”

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Kevion Williams, senior defensive end for Palmetto football, in practice Tuesday. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

At 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, Williams is a force at defensive end and at tight end.

He was a key in the regular-season victory over Friday’s playoff opponent, district rival Braden River.

Playing the Pirates a second time — or any team — presents a challenge, and it takes place at 7:30 p.m. at Harllee Stadium.

“Very tough, because everybody has the chance to basically hit the restart button and make changes, adjustments and do some things differently you wished you did the first time around,” Marino said. “It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt.”

This week’s schedule

FRIDAY

Class 7A-Region 3 quarterfinals

Largo Pinellas Park at Manatee, 7:30 p.m.

Class 6A-Region 3 quarterfinals

Braden River at Palmetto, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Sunshine State Athletic Conference semifinals

Oviedo Master’s Academy at Saint Stephen’s, 7 p.m.

Previous high school football coverage

He played rugby in Hawaii. Now this Manatee High sophomore is making transition to football

Two district champs. A playoff first. And more highlights from 2019 prep football season

Hungry for football: Here’s how Manatee County high school teams get their fill on game days

There’s a new football program in Manatee. Here’s how PCHS is building it from ground up

IMG Academy football is the ‘ultimate student-athlete experience.’ On and off the field

Hammer time: How everyday tool has motivated Palmetto High football team’s perfect start

Maleek Huggins comes from Southeast High football family. Now he’s making name for himself

From 15 losses in row to 3-0 start. Here’s how Lakewood Ranch football is changing its culture

When lightning strikes: What you need to know about how prep football handles bad weather

When it comes to player safety, embracing helmet technology was no-brainer for Manatee programs

Meet the ‘Ice Gang.’ Palmetto High’s four senior wide receivers are as cool as ice

He played at Florida and with the Tampa Bay Bucs. Now Manatee High has him as a coach

Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.
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