Michael David Smith,ProFootball Talk - May 7, 2018
Sherman Williams was an All-SEC running back who helped Alabama win a national championship, and the Cowboys chose him in the second round of the 1995 NFL draft. But things didn’t go according to plan from there.
Williams was a disappointment in the NFL, never gaining even 500 yards in a season, and after the Cowboys cut him he was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and passing counterfeit currency, and he spent 14 years in prison. But after Williams was released in 2014, he went back to Alabama, and this weekend he got his degree.
“My message to the kids is always work hard, hard work pays off, and anything you set your mind to do you can do it,” Williams told the Tuscaloosa News. “Have passion at it, work hard at it, have the discipline and determination and it will come through for you.”
Williams said returning to college after a long stint in prison was a shock, with the campus looking very different than it was in the 1990s, and with today’s students using technology that is foreign to him. But he also said he thinks he still has something value to contribute, including warning younger people not to make the same mistakes he made.
Williams, who was released in 2014, spends his time now working at a car dealership and doing motivational speaking to youth as part of the Palmer Williams Group with former UA teammate David Palmer.
ORG XMIT: Sherman Williams, Dallas Cowboys running back.
"My message to the kids is always work hard, hard work pays off, and anything you set your mind to do you can do it," he said. "Have passion at it, work hard at it, have the discipline and determination and it will come through for you."
It was another part of his message that helped him decide to go back to college.
"I preach the importance of education to the kids as well," he said.
Williams won a state championship in high school, a national championship with Alabama as part of the 1992 team -- scoring the first touchdown in the title game against Miami -- and a Super Bowl ring with the Dallas Cowboys. Football had always been his priority.
"I was going to college because I was trying to get to the next step," he said. "My whole mind-frame was focused on trying to get to the NFL.
"Education wasn't my priority back then, but it wasn't a situation where I didn't care about it. I figured that one day when I got older I would probably come back and try to finish, so I did take the proper classes."
Williams had accumulated 94 hours of class credit during his playing years at Alabama, leaving him 26 hours short of his degree. Before he could start back, however, he had to be approved for readmission due to his criminal record.
"There were certain obstacles in place even though tuition was covered by the university," he said. "I had to be reinstated to be accepted to be a student again."
Palmer, who also went on to play in the NFL, roomed with Williams in college. He stuck by his friend through the trial and incarceration. He understands what this achievement means for WIlliams.
"Him graduating means a lot with all he's been through the last 20 years because it's something his mom wanted him to do and he felt like he disappointed her one time," Palmer said. "He feels like this will make up for the wrong that he's done.
"It is a real big deal. Being out of school about 20 years and then going back to get your degree, that's very special. It means a whole to him and it means a whole lot to me and his family."
Williams emerged from prison to find a different world.
"Everything has gone digital," he said. "You've got to be technologically savvy to keep up. That was one of the things I had to adjust to. When I went in you had a flip phone and maybe had a pager, those types of things."
The Alabama campus had been transformed over time.
"Oh man, it's like half the campus has been wiped away and rebuilt," he said. "The basic foundations of the campus, Rose Administration and all those type of things, are still there. The Strip has changed. The Houndstooth ain't the same old Houndstooth and the Ivory Tusk has disappeared. Now there's a big Publix on campus.
"The facilities, the whole football complex has changed."
So has Williams. He talks about getting a degree as an exhilarating experience, but also one that helps him belong: many of his peers have degrees, and having his own will make him feel less awkward around them.
More importantly, he says he is a different man from the one who chose a path that landed him behind bars.
"I was a gifted athlete but I was a fool with a capital F-O-O-L, doing foolish things," he said. "Myself today is 20 years older, that's one thing. With 20 years of maturity you get a little wiser. I'm smarter.
"And now I'm educated."
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