The course of Jalen Williams’ life was altered on April 15, 2012.
The day Jimmie Williams died of leukemia set his son on a course that led to today, when the Blythewood linebacker is expected to sign a National Letter of Intent to play football at Clemson .
Jalen Williams had been a two-sport athlete for years, splitting his time between basketball and football.
“When people would ask me which sport was my favorite, I’d always say whichever sport was in season at the time,” Williams said.
But basketball was his first love. It was his thing. And his father’s.
“I always wanted him to be 100 percent into football, but it (basketball) was his dad’s sport, so that’s what he wanted to do,” said Williams’ mother, Kimberly.
“It was the thing that we had in common, and we’d go to the gym together as much as we could,” Williams said. At Williams’ games with the Blythewood basketball team, his father would scream encouragement and cheer so loudly that sometimes it was all he could hear.
“When he wasn’t there doing that, I didn’t want to play anymore,” said Williams, who was a sophomore when he lost his father. “I lost my love for the game. I missed playing with him.”
At his mother’s encouragement, he played basketball through his junior season.
“It was the first season without (Jimmie) and I knew how mad my husband would have been for him to quit. That was never really an option when his father was alive,” Kimberly Williams said.
But Jalen Williams did quit basketball.
That is when he began to “put it all into football.”
As a young player in pee wee football, Williams was a running back. Or, at least, he thought he was.
“I started playing for a team that my cousin was on, at Polo Road, and the coach after the first couple of practices, told me my stance was horrible, and he was going to have to move me to another position,” he said.
But Williams worked at it, and went on to be a team MVP in his first season.
“My cousin was faster than me, and he was a running back, too. So when we would watch Clemson, with C.J. Spiller and James Davis, how they were Thunder and Lightning, that’s how we thought we were,” he said.
His mother said she always knew her son would be a great football player, and it didn’t take Blythewood coaches long to figure it out, either.
“The kid is blessed with a lot of talent and he’s all heart when he plays football,” Blythewood coach Dan Morgan said. “The thing for Jalen was that he’s such a humble guy, it’s hard for him to look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m pretty good.’ ”
Williams’ size (6-feet, 215 pounds) made him an unlikely Division 1 choice at linebacker, but in the spring of 2013, after being recruited mainly by FCS schools, Williams got a letter from Georgia.
“Even when we were getting offers from the smaller schools, we were happy, because it meant he was getting noticed, and I had a feeling something big was going to happen,” said Williams’ mother, a South Carolina alumna. “But I told him from the beginning to dream big.”
Then Clemson recruiter Brent Venables visited, and Morgan pushed hard to get Williams in front of him.
“They were sold once they saw him play in person,” Morgan said. “Too many colleges wanted certain combine measurements, and they missed out. I think he’s going to be exceptional at the next level, and I’m happy that the Clemson staff understood that.”
Without his father to guide him, Williams said the recruiting process was hard.
“I was so stressed about it. If my dad were there, we would have just talked it out,” said Williams. “But without my dad there, all my coaches and a lot of family stepped in and really helped me out.”
Williams committed to Clemson in October, in the midst of a senior season in which he made 95 tackles, nine tackles for losses and six sacks, along with four forced fumbles and recovered six.
“I’m a Gamecock, but I will get used to watching him play in orange, and it will be my pleasure to follow him over the next four years of his career,” Morgan said.
And as for basketball?
“I still love to watch it,” Williams said.
“Actually, I go to every home game to cheer for my younger cousin.”
Just like his dad.