Ishaq Williams found himself in an unfamiliar place these past few days. After a two-year hiatus, he was back on a football field.
The one-time 5-star recruit had his chance to breathe life into his football career this week, down in Texas participating in the College Gridiron Showcase. It’s the first time Williams will have played in a competitive football game since the Pinstripe Bowl, the last two seasons ruined by the academic dishonesty probe that froze the football careers of five Irish players.
Williams spoke with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen to talk about the opportunity to audition for potential employers. He also discussed the road he’s traveled the last two years, finding his way back to Notre Dame and on track to earn his degree in May.
“I’m a totally different person,” Williams told Hansen. “I’m positive, hard-working, have a passion for stuff. This situation has changed my life for the better.”
Do yourself a favor and read the entire article. It’s a testament to the work Williams put in to even give himself this chance.
Williams’ football career essentially ended in August of 2014, when Notre Dame pulled he and four of his teammates from participation while the university worked through an investigation into improper academic activity. The drawn-out results of that investigation led to a two-semester ban from school for Williams, KeiVarae Russell, Kendall Moore and Davis Daniels. Only Russell returned to Notre Dame to play football in 2015.
Williams was free to return to the university after the suspension. His eligibility was a different story. Details remain murky to this day, but Williams’ appeal to play in 2015 was denied by the NCAA, who also ruled that Williams couldn’t even participate as a scout team player.
While he could lift weights in the Gug and spent time with his former teammates in the locker room, he needed to find a way to prepare for his potential football future. That led Williams to former Irish quarterback Evan Sharpley, who spent the fall semester working with him at Sharpley’s training facility in Elkhart.
The work paid off. Williams has slimmed down, now carrying around 260 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. He’s also cleared his head of any negativity that could carryover from the entire incident—two seasons of football lost for an academic mistake.
“I watched every Notre Dame football game this year, but never at the stadium, always from home,” he said. “Those guys welcomed me into the locker room, welcomed me to work out at the Gug (ND’s football facility). They never gave up on me. So how could I give up on myself?
Williams, a philosophy major, is familiar with the famous quote “It’s never too late to become who you might have been.”
But it’s no longer about justifying that old five-star recruiting tag. It’s about new beginnings, wherever they take him.
“I can’t put into words what it’s like to have this chance to overcome,” Williams said. “It means everything to me. There are so many people to thank, however and wherever it ends.”
Williams will be back at Notre Dame this spring, when he’ll audition for scouts at the Irish Pro Day. There’s no question his size and athleticism will draw some interest from a league where teams covet untapped potential.
Credit goes to Williams for doing his best to get back on track.