It was clear from a young age that Carson Williams wasn’t going to be the strongest, the fastest, or the tallest kid a sports coach could have hoped for. It was also clear that Williams’ choice of high schools – Abbotsford Senior – wasn’t exactly the football powerhouse (at the time) ideal for an aspiring football star.
What wasn’t yet clear was the journey that would take Williams from a tier two varsity squad in a fledgling program to starting quarterback for a top Canadian university.
Last weekend, on Nov. 1, Carson Williams played in the final football game of his fifth and final year with the UBC Thunderbirds, passing for 215 yards and one touchdown in a 38-18 loss to the Saskatchewan Huskies.
He didn’t leave the field after the game, instead kneeling down on the Thunderbirds logo at center as if he were meditating or praying. For more than a decade Williams has given everything to football, and football has been good to him.
“Carson was the best student of the game we’ve ever had,” recalled former Abby coach Rick Funk, “He’s a very, very bright kid, All you had to do was tell him once and he got it.”
It was that intelligence that allowed Williams to stand out in a sport that tends to celebrate speed and size. Williams knew the playbook backwards and forwards, he knew the calls and the codes, he knew how to read a defence, and even an offence when called upon.
Funk said that he once subbed Williams in on the junior varsity defensive line, a position “which was completely ill-suited to his body type,” in the hopes that he would run the Abby defence the way he’d mastered the offence. When David Williams, Carson’s dad, asked why he was there, Funk retorted “because he’s the only one who knows what he’s doing.”
Williams’ ability to memorize and analyze strategy was second only to his drive to become a better quarterback. Despite also playing competitive basketball, rugby, hockey, and baseball through his high school career, Williams consistently put in long hours on the football field after practice working on his footwork and throwing accuracy. He was the star on a team fighting for respect as newcomers on the football scene, and that lack of experience often translated into direct hits on Williams as Abby’s quarterback. Yet Williams never thought about passing on the mantle of responsibility.
“I was a quarterback the whole way through. That was my spot. I wanted to have the ball the whole time, make the decision,” he said.
Williams and the Panthers played in B.C.’s tier II developmental league in his Grade 11 year, before making the jump to AA in his senior year. Abby coach Jay Fujimura, who arrived in Williams’ junior year, was skeptical about his undersized quarterback at first, but quickly began to respect Williams’ discipline and intelligence on the field.
“I told him, ‘You’re not going to be the tallest guy, you’re not going to be the fastest guy, but as long as you work the hardest, opportunity will find you,’” Fujimura remembered.
By the end of the season, Williams made Team BC, picking up an invite to the prestigious Senior Bowl and catching the eye of then-UBC Thunderbirds coach Shawn Olsen, who signed the Abby Senior product in 2009 as one of seven quarterbacks on the Thunderbirds roster.
The 5-foot-11 sub-200-pound Williams quickly learned that it was the cerebral side of his game – his ability to learn the playbook – that was going to give him an edge over his more athletic counterparts, and he began spending so much time in the film room that his teammates took to calling it “Carson’s Office.” He crept upwards through the ranks despite his size, making appearances on the second-string in his sophomore year, before suffering a setback to third-string the next season.
“After that season I decided that my only goal was going to be to start, and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me,” Williams said.
Actually, Williams won the starting job twice, once at the beginning of his fourth year, during which he would split the duties with fellow Abby quarterback Greg Bowcott, and once at the beginning of the 2014 season. This year, while the T-Birds struggled to a 2-6 record, Williams held the starting role for the entire season.
In October Williams picked up a nod as the Canada West Offensive Player of the Week for his performance during a 33-32 victory over the Regina Rams.
Now at the end of his CIS career, Williams is considering playing in a league in Europe for a couple of years once he finishes his Psychology degree in April. He may also try to find a coaching position to pass on the skills he’s mastered.
Whatever he decides, Williams will bring the same determination to the challenge that he’s shown his entire football career.
“There’s no shortcut,” he said, “you just have to buckle down and work your ass off to achieve what you want to achieve.”