Connor Williams absolutely hated his first year of organized football.
No wonder. At eight years old, he was the youngest and one of the smallest players on coach Bob Barr's Kanata Knights, and he was immediately turned into a defensive end.
"That wasn't too fun," Williams said last night, on the sidelines of Minto Field, as his former teammates with the Myers Riders held practice. "But I grew to love the game. I loved the brotherhood aspect of it.
"Also, hitting people was pretty fun."
Nine years later, Williams has honed the talent to the point where he's about to start hitting the best college football players alive. He'll still be a little younger than the rest, but size is no longer an issue.
In his final days at Holy Trinity high school, the 6-foot-3, 226-lb. Williams has signed a letter of intent to play for Utah State University. Still four months from his 18th birthday, he is thought to be the youngest Canadian to ever receive a full-ride athletic scholarship at an NCAA Division I school.
"I sent my game film around to a bunch of different places, and I was getting some feedback from some guys," said Williams, who connected with Aggies defensive line coach Chad Kauha'aha'a. "I checked out the website and I could see myself playing there. It was a done deal. They only had one scholarship left, needed someone in my position, took it.
FOOTBALL IN FAMILY
"It was always my dream since I was little, so I just went with it," he added when asked if he needed much time to think about the offer. "It's going to be great, it's going to be awesome. I'm pumped."
Williams comes from a strong football background. His uncle, whom he credits with making him the player he is today, is Shane Ireland, a coach with Myers Riders and a former Ottawa Rough Rider and Montreal Alouette linebacker. His cousin, Brian Wise, was a defensive end at the University of Utah who went on to play for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
And his mother, Debra Williams, well, she's the "rock" of his existence.
"My mom's a big, big part of my life," Williams said. "She's been absolutely amazing."
Williams will skip this week's East-West Bowl, the local senior high school all-star game, and head to Logan, Utah in June.
"I want to make the starting roster, then just keep plugging away," he said of his next goal. "With hard work and determination, who knows what will happen."
As much as Myers coach Max Palladino would have liked to have Williams back for a fourth season, he knew his team captain was destined for such big things.
"On and off the field, he's a great man, very honourable," Palladino said of Williams. "He works with the younger guys, he helps them out, he makes them understand if there's something happening. He doesn't get upset when something goes wrong. He's very relaxed and calm with guys. He's a great team leader."
He's also quick to pick up the tendencies of opponents and, with quick lateral movement and straight ahead speed (running a 4.5, 40) Williams fills holes in a hurry.
"He was born to play football," said Palladino. "We all knew he'd be going off to an American college. We didn't think it would happen this quick, being right out of high school."
USU coach Gary Andersen announced the signing of Williams and another linebacker, Californian Devin Johnson, on Friday.
"Recruiting is a year-round process and it is never over," Andersen told the Herald Journal in Logan. "We're very fortunate to be able to sign these two talented linebackers. They provide us with added speed and talent, and also establish a talented linebacker corps on our defence."