Dexter Williams knows he almost lost his chance to genuinely contribute at Notre Dame only two weeks before that opportunity would finally arrive. Only a fortnight before the 2016 Irish season-opener, Williams and four teammates were arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession; Williams and two of the others were also initially charged with possession of a handgun without a license. The latter charge was dropped and Williams accepted a plea deal regarding the former.
The greater decision would come from the Notre Dame coaches.
“I think about it every day because that could have been my last chance, not just being at Notre Dame but playing football period,” the rising junior running back said following the Blue-Gold Game. “It’s on my mind daily, and I just continue to place myself around positive people and continue to stay positive.”
A full academic year later, Williams has worked his way back into good graces across the board. By no means did 200 rushing yards and three touchdowns on only 39 carries last season hurt that cause, but Williams’ path back to the standing of a good teammate took more than a few flashes of his speed.
“I had to grow up a lot,” he said. “I had to gain respect of my coaches, my teammates and also just begin to work even harder. I knew I let a lot of people down. I let my family down my coaches down, my teammates down. I just wanted to let them know it won’t happen again.
“I would make the right decisions from here on out.”
If he didn’t, he would be letting down his mother. When acknowledging that pressure, Williams quickly added another name. Former Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant played a pivotal role in Williams’ recruitment. Both from Florida, Bryant could undoubtedly relate to some of the hesitations an Orlando high schooler might have about moving to northwestern Indiana. Bryant was murdered May 7, 2016.
“Everything that I do is for my mother,” Williams said. “Whatever I’m doing, I make sure is for her, and also for Greg Bryant. He is one of my motivations, as well. Me and Greg had a great relationship.
“For those two, I’m willing to do anything, put my body through anything.”
Williams has done more than go through offseason conditioning—which he said has changed his speed, presumably he meant for the better. He has also taken an interest in his younger teammates. For starters, sophomore running back Tony Jones, Jr., is nearly always within earshot. After moving from receiver back to running back this spring, so was sophomore Deon McIntosh. McIntosh’s move was sparked in part by the shoulder injury suffered by early enrollee freshman C.J. Holmes.
“Those younger guys that come in, those are my brothers, and I don’t want to see them go through the same [mistakes] I went through,” Williams said. “I continue to stay on them as much as my coaches and my teammates stay on me, because I don’t want to see them go down that road. I want to see them do great and be successful.”
For his part, Williams finished spring on a successful note. Much of the conversation during the 15 practices focused on Jones’ emergence, but Williams made sure to end with a notable impression. He took nine carries for 96 yards and a score. The touchdown came on a 38-yard carry, three yards shorter than his longest of the spring finale. Williams added four catches for 36 yards.
Admittedly, some of his success may have had to do with who was in the stands.
“It felt great just having a big game, being on the field with my mom here,” Williams said. “Having my coaches behind me and just having the coaches put me in, having them trust me with the ball, let me go out there and have fun. It was a great feeling.”
Suffice it to say, that is a better feeling than the one Williams had less than nine months ago. At this point, though, he is glad that August mishap occurred.
“I’m looking at it in a positive way, because if something like that didn’t happen, who knows where I could have been,” he said. “I just feel like it was a great eye-opener and it helped me maintain focus, continue on with this process and work harder.”