This article originally appeared in the Oct. 3 edition of the Army Football Game Day Program vs. Tulane.
By Dallas Miller
The mission of the U. S. Military Academy is to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country; professional growth throughout a career as an officer in the U.S. Army; and a lifetime of selfless service to the Nation.
In other words, Carson Williams.
In what other way do you describe an individual that has demonstrated what Williams has during his football career at the Academy?
It's been an arduous road for the senior quarterback- from highly-touted recruit, to backup, then starter, and back to reserve duty again. But in a spot where many athletes would choose to simply go through the motions and finish out their career with a not-so-subtle hint of bitterness in their heart, Williams is different. A talented pocket passer in a triple option offense, Williams has found a new way to impact his team.
"I can watch Trent (Steelman) and the other quarterbacks, but I'm lucky to be able to pick out certain things, especially at the quarterback position, to see what's happening during the course of the game," remarks Williams, a relaxed southern drawl behind an eager smile. "I know and I've seen over and over again what the option is supposed to look like, and I could tell you exactly how I'm supposed to do it, but I physically can't do it, because I wasn't gifted in that way. I'm a different type of quarterback."
Williams is part elder statesman, part mentor, and part coach in his final season. Through a sea of changes that includes three different coaching staffs, he has emerged as a solid rock, key in the transition to the Rich Ellerson era. Williams has also taken freshman signal-caller Trent Steelman under his wing, a decision that appears to have paid off quickly in Army's start to the 2009 campaign.
Says Williams of his younger counterpart, "Trent has a lot of great talent. He has the potential, and a lot of people have seen it, to be a great quarterback in this offense. I'm doing what I can for the team in being the critical situations guy and helping out with Trent."
Entering the season, Williams figured to be Army's No. 2 quarterback in Rich Ellerson's new triple-option offense. Despite proving to be the team's top quarterback in the passing game throughout his previous 17 starts and 25 games played, Williams found himself as the third quarterback in a two-man rotation following the team's first preseason in a new offense under a new staff.
"There really aren't reps for more than two guys in practice," notes Ellerson. "The beautiful thing about Carson is that he doesn't need many reps - he adjusts, sees the game very well, and has played a lot of football. He understands what we are going after and can dust it off relatively quickly, but he's not a typical option-quarterback. But when we are throwing the ball, he's the go-to guy.
"Carson does a wonderful job because he's seen it all. He knows he has a prime-time role with this football team, both in terms of his leadership and his maturity, but also athletically; he brings some things to the picture that he can do better than any of (the other quarterbacks)."
Similar to his path in the Black, Gold and Gray, Williams' journey to West Point has taken its share of twists and turns along the way.
"My parents wouldn't let me play (football) until I got to middle school" says Williams. "At the time that I did get the opportunity to play, I was going through the whole growth phase - very awkward, un-athletic."
It wasn't until several years later, as a 10th grader, that the Cullman, Ala. native made the switch from receiver to quarterback. It didn't take long for him make up for the lost years of Pee-Wee football, as he was crowned the starter from his sophomore year on. As Williams continued to grow into his now 6-3 frame, the offense he ran changed and adapted with his Howitzer right arm.
"It was more of a pro-style offense my 10th and 11th grade years. Twelfth grade it was spread. It was all open and we passed probably 80 to 85 percent of the time. It gave me a little bias towards the spread offense," Williams laughs.
In his final season at Cullman, Williams threw for 2,185 yards and 18 touchdowns and began to receive scholarship offers from schools around the country including Vanderbilt, N.C. State and Arkansas.
"It was a tough decision," adds Williams on his assessment of choosing a college. "I didn't know whether I was going to go to a school and focus primarily on football, or not put all my eggs in one basket and go a place like West Point."
His father Frank Williams, a Captain and Judge Advocate General Lawyer in the U.S. Army, pushed him toward military service, while his mother Connie Briehn, a Vanderbilt graduate, made sure that a quality academic experience weighed into the evaluation.
"With the leadership skills built into the education, the quality of the education, as well as the degree after you graduate, combined with the chance to play Division I football - West Point was the total package. This place sold itself," says Williams.
Once he transplanted from the deep South to the Hudson River valley, he immediately challenged incumbent quarterback David Pevoto for the starting job under center. Williams earned his first career start against Tulane eight games into the 2006 season, and made the most of his first dip into the spotlight.
"That was one of my better performances," says Williams of his 16-for-24, 194-yard, three-touchdown outing against the Green Wave on that October day in the Louisiana Superdome. Although the Black Knights suffered a 42-28 setback in his debut, Williams pressed on and finished out his first season as the Black Knights primary quarterback.
Through a long offseason that saw the end of the Bobby Ross regime move into the beginning of Stan Brock's time as head coach, Williams seemingly cemented himself on Army's roster. After sitting out of the season-opener as a sophomore, he burst back onto the scene at Michie Stadium to replace the injured Pevoto.
Trailing 7-0 at the half to visiting Rhode Island, Army leaned on Williams to engineer a game-tying drive, keyed by a 30-yard completion to Justin Larson, early in the third quarter. Unable to notch a score in regulation, Williams and Larson connected again on the first play of overtime from 25 yards out to lift Army to a 14-7 decision.
"There was kind of a delay between when he caught it and fell down, and the whole crowd went crazy. I still get chills talking about it."
The late-game heroics vaulted Williams back into the starting cast, where he once again capitalized on his opportunities over the final nine games of the season. In one of the most prolific seasons by an Army signal-caller, Williams completed 151-of-287 passes for 1,170 yards and 11 touchdowns ranking fourth on the Academy's single season touchdowns list, and fifth on the single-season passing yards and completions ledgers. Against Tulsa, he completed 26 of his 38 pass attempts to rank fifth on Army's single-game completions chart.
It was just last year when the story, the first two chapters of a ride-off-into-the-sunset opus already written, began to shift to something entirely different.
As winter turned to spring in 2006-2007, the Army offense transformed from a pro-style attack back to the more traditional roots of service academy football: the triple option.
Williams still remained the starter for the first three games in Brock's system, but then-sophomore Chip Bowden supplanted him the following week at Texas A&M, ending a streak of 13 consecutive starts.
"To be honest, Chip was a much better option quarterback than I was," says Williams of his removal from the lead quarterback spot. Since that time though, Williams has built a level of comfort with his role as a two-minute specialist, but realizes the nature of his duties.
"I pray that I'm never in (the game), because if I'm not it means we are winning," he says. "I've got the best arm and I'm the most experienced passer, but that's not necessarily a good thing when you're in a critical situation because you're more than likely behind."
True to his words, Williams' limited action thus far this season has come in exactly that fashion - the Black Knights trailing, needing an unlikely aerial attack to turn the tide. With visiting Duke holding a 21-13 advantage and time running low exactly three weeks ago, Williams entered the game - broadcasting to nearly 26,000 people at Michie Stadium that Army planned to put the ball in the air. The ball-hawking Blue Devils focused all their efforts on Williams' right arm and came up with a pair of interception returns for touchdowns that all but sealed the Black Knights' fate. Undaunted, Williams mounted a final scoring drive, capped by a perfectly-thrown 8-yard fade to Alejandro Villanueva as time expired, showing just a flash of the talent that guided the team just two years prior.
In failing to take the easy road and letting a poor attitude become a detriment to the team, Williams has embodied that old goal of the Academy for selfless service, and his teammates have taken notice.
"I know it's been harder for him than others as far as playing time, but he's a great guy," says classmate Jason Johnson, the team's starting right tackle. "He's always one to make you laugh in the huddle and lighten the mood. He's a great guy, a great player, and a great friend."
Now, with just eight more games listed on the Army football slate for 2009, Williams has a wisdom uncommon among many of his peers.
"It's not necessarily the individual records, and I've seen that as I've come along. Football is a temporary status in your life, and you won't play football forever, but I would like the relationships to last; it's one of the reasons I stayed."
"A lot of these guys on the team I consider brothers, and really close friends. It's an honor to be on the same field with them every day, joking around, and having classes with them. I would much rather be remembered as the guy who helped the team win than the guy that set individual records, even if that means that I don't set any records."
Leader of character? Selfless service?
Dallas Miller is the Athletic Communications Assistant at West Point.