The great Vince Lombardi once said, "Football is a great deal like life in that it teaches that work, sacrifice, perseverance, competitive drive, selflessness, and respect for authority are the price each and every one of us must pay to achieve any goal that is worthwhile."
Lombardi would have loved Korey Williams. The New Orleans native knows all about the price that must be paid for success.
Both on and off the field, Williams personifies hard work, sacrifice, perseverance, selflessness, and respect. The injury that happened to him this past season is just one more hurdle that he'll overcome.
If you are a betting man, bet on Williams.
“I have been in this situation where I have had to work my way from the bottom before," he said in this exclusive interview with GoldenEaglePridecom.
"I had some offers out of High School but I feel like I was overlooked, you know, I came in here and was a four year starter and opened up some eyes. I have the opportunity to do that again. I love being the underdog. I know everyone is probably thinking, ‘you know he tore his ACL, what are his chances in the NFL?’
"I know a lot of people doubt me right now but I want to look it straight in the face and see it as another obstacle that I have to overcome to get to my goal which is to reach the NFL. It is motivation.
"When the game is taken away from you it really does make you appreciate it more.”
Williams suffered the injury in a game in Charlottesville against the Virginia Cavaliers. In a game that ironically was a turning point in the season with the big victory, the Eagles lost their defensive captain for the season.
Now, he is on the road to recovery.
“The knee is feeling great," he said. "I have been doing some ladder drills and some jumping drills but last week we took it to the next level.
"I was doing a lot of back pedaling, shuffle drills, and linebacker drops. I wasn’t full speed but it just felt really good to do those things that I haven’t been able to do in 4 or 5 months. I just felt good just getting back out there.”
“I am still here in Hattiesburg everyday working out with the training staff. Every day I am doing something whether it is in the weight room or out on the football field. I will be working out here until my pro day which is March 23rd."
It is that pro-day that has become his goal as he continues down the path to his dream.
“If I was able to finish off my season I know I could have been in the senior bowl and combines," he said.
"Pro Day has become my focus now, and March 23rd is the day I am gearing up toward."
He has drawn strength from others as well.
"I have talked with other guys who have made it to the NFL and some teams invite them out for private work-outs so I will keep my eyes open and wait on any phone calls," he added. "I know all it takes is for one team to like me, and that team won’t regret it. I want to play for a long time in the NFL, and I just need one team to give me that chance.”
His trainer has told the scouts that Williams won't be 100% for his pro-day, but that he will be there by the time camp opens in the fall.
I asked Williams to think back to his time at Southern Miss. He had plenty to say about his time as a Golden Eagle and has been so appreciative of the support he's received.
“It has meant a lot to be a Golden Eagle," he said. "The fans showed me so much support, and not just in good times, but in the low moments as well. I didn't just receive support when I was selected to all-conference, but I received even the most support when I tore my ACL.
"That says a lot about Golden Eagle nation.
This is just a part of the community around here; you just get that pride instilled in you.
"I think G-Mac (Gerald McGrath) was a part of that for me," he continued. "In my freshman year and red-shirt freshman year he really set the standard, and I saw how everyone just loved him. I wanted to be like him and I always looked up to him. He did everything he could for the community, and that motivated me to want to show my face to the fans and get to meet them face to face. I wanted to show them I loved them by taking every opportunity I could to get out and get to know them."
It is hard to fathom Southern Miss the past four years without Korey Williams, but that almost happened.
"It has been great, it has been a blessing," he added. "I am so glad I made that decision to switch. I was committed to Purdue, but I switched it over to Southern Miss and I am so thankful. I’ll tell you this, the first thing I’ll do when I get to the NFL is to join the Eagle Club."
He also thought back to three moments that really stand out to him in his career.
I was thinking about that the other day," he said. "One of my favorite memories is that interception return. I wanted to get a touchdown before my career was over, so that was a big one.
"Of course, winning the championship was one of the biggest moments ever. Those two moments are the biggest, but another one that felt the best is on senior day when I walked out of the tunnel and to hear the fans chanting my name is a moment I’ll never forget the rest of my life.”
In looking ahead, Korey said he's excited about the future of Golden Eagle football. He knows the team is in good hands.
Right now you have the best defensive player in C-USA in Jamie Collins, and the most versatile offensive weapon in Tracey Lampley in the conference. Those two guys are going to continue to be special.
"Also getting Jason Weaver back is going to be huge for this team. There are some guys coming back, and as long as they can find leadership and uphold the standards, the future is going to be very bright.
"Though my four years it was a building process, and someone had to step up and be a leader. My whole senior class really set the standard, and we made sure and led this year. I think if those guys follow in the footsteps of this last senior class, every season can be special.
He couldn't end without paying tribute to his home town of New Orleans, and the places he grew up and played when he was a kid he hopes to give back to someday.
“New Orleans is my heart, and it was one of the things that helped me be the man I am today," he said.
"There is so much love for my city and my High School, Edna Karr HS. Any free time I have during the off-season I make sure and show my face there. I try to be an example to those guys and give them knowledge. I want to give them things that weren’t there for me, and I want to help give them any tips I can.
"I want to make it to that point where I can give back. I want to go to back and give to my part of east New Orleans where I grew up. I want to go back to where I played pee-wee football. One of my dreams is to go back and rebuild that park. Another one is to go back and help develop Karr HS. It is a blessing to still do that today. I think with some time we can rebuild it, and I want to be a part of that.”
Eagle fans will continue to pay tribute to Korey as we look forward to his career in the NFL. And one this is for certain, Korey Williams will never forget the school that helped propel him there.