Kelcey Williams knows what it’s like to be a football hero.
After all, the former Humboldt High star was Mr. Football in the state of Tennessee back in 1997.
Williams had a football dream, but it slipped away over the years. He spent two seasons at Northwest Oklahoma before he fell off the football radar and out of the game completely.
Now, at age 30, Williams is like many players with the semi-pro Nashville Storm. He is back playing for the love of the game with the faint hope of still having one last shot at the game he loves — as a rookie.
“I’m 30 years old. Most of the guys are right around my age,” said Williams, in his first season with the Storm after many years away from the game. “There are some guys who are younger, around 24 or so, and a few guys who are older. I’m not the oldest guy on the team.”
General Manager and Team President Bill Caldwell recalled seeing how impressive Williams was during his tryout, even with years away from competitive football.
“He had played college football at Northwest Oklahoma, but he’s been out of football the last three or four years. Still, he was the best of our runners in the scrimmages we had.”
Williams, who at 6’2”, 240 pounds, has grown into a fullback/tailback combination after being a speedy halfback in high school playing for legendary coach John Tucker.
Twisting his arm
He said he had to be coaxed into trying out for the Storm, but says he is enjoying playing football again and can’t imagine why he ever let the game go.
“A friend of mine kept asking me, ‘Are you going to try out? Are you going to play?’” Williams said. “And I finally decided I would, and now I don’t know why I ever quit. I’m really enjoying playing again.”
Storm coach Charles Hunter was familiar with Williams, and knows well stories such as his, of talented football players, who for one reason or another fell through the cracks and found their way onto teams like the Storm.
“I know a little bit about Kelcey,” Hunter said. “He was Mr. Football for his class, and he was a tailback. Now, he splits time at fullback and running back and is projected to start at fullback. He’s respectful and coachable. He’s been out of football for a while and just getting back into it, but I think he’s going to be a good fit for us.”
A thunderous opening
Williams hasn’t just walked into any old team with the Storm. Last year, Nashville went 12-1 in the North American Football League, and opened its season Saturday night with a 57-7 shellacking of the Tennessee Central Express out of Cookeville.
The NAFL, which has more than 100 teams nationwide, is officially recognized by the NCAA as an amateur league. That means players who have eligibility remaining can use the league as a possible springboard to college football. Mookie Owens of the Storm recently signed to play football at Cumberland University.
“I’d say 80 percent are playing just for the love of the game,” Hunter said. “But there’s a certain percentage of guys that are still trying to move on to next level. This is one of the outlets around that allows them to do that.”
A few players who have played for the Storm have signed contracts in Arena Football2, including Albert Winn, whom general manager Bill Caldwell said is the younger brother of former Tennessee Titans star and current Baltimore Raven Derrick Mason. Former Storm receiver Tario Frederick recently signed with AF2’s Peoria Pirates.
“Functionally when you come right down to it, we basically allow grown up football players, not playing professionally or in college right now to continue to play football against good competition,” Caldwell said.
An inner drive
Players with the Storm must have a certain amount of dedication to play. The team plays a 14-game regular season that runs in summer from June through September with playoffs in October. There are chartered bus rides to places as far away as Little Rock, Ark., to play games, and most of the players are holding down their own full-time jobs in addition to being the ultimate in weekend warriors.
“Basically, it’s fun and it’s nerve-wracking,” Hunter said. “Sometimes these guys do work and their schedules do conflict with practices. You don’t get the whole team out there, maybe about 75 percent. You may get this guy one week and several others the next. So we try to get a lot of repetitions in practice.”
For all of them, the love of the game of football still burns inside them, and for some, so does a dream.
“Everybody on the team has something in common,” Caldwell said. “They’re playing because they want to continue to play competitive football. Some are playing in hopes of getting college opportunity, and some in hopes of playing professionally.”
Williams is simply back playing football, and wanting to move forward, wherever football might take him now.
Williams hails from the fertile football grounds in rural West Tennessee, an area that around the same time he came out produced NFL stars like linebacker Al Wilson, offensive lineman Trey Teague and current Buffalo Bills cornerback Jabari Greer.
He admits that when he sees guys he played with and against in high school and college now on TV in the NFL, he wonders if that could have or even should have been him.
“I look around and see guys on TV and wonder if that could have been me,” Williams said. “Trey Teague and Al Wilson were a couple of years older than me, and Jabari Greer is a year younger than me, and I see several guys I played in college with and against who are on TV and say, ‘Hey, that could have been me.’”