ATHENS — Josh Williams and Ben Nester still talk about their “tour of duty” during the Concord University football team’s off-season.
Williams, a 232-pound senior fullback from Beckley, explained, “It was just a grueling week of us waking up at 5 a.m. every day. We’d go out on the field, rain, sleet, snow. We’d run for a solid hour. It was really taxing, mentally and physically.
He said that he and Nester, fast friends and fellow backs, “got our camo hats and our camo shirts, and we treated it like a ‘tour of duty.’ We went out there, we had fun, we were pushing people, we were trying to get ’em to move fast. The guys who wanted to quit, we were trying to keep them in it.”
“I think, me and him going out there and having fun with it, really helped everybody else out, to go out and kind of embrace it.”
He said about the 2014 Mountain Lions, “I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team where we have so much camaraderie, I guess. We all have the same mindset and the same goals.”
They’ve already reached a few significant ones. Concord posted an 11-0 regular season, won the Mountain East Conference football championship, and will host an NCAA Division II playoff game at noon Saturday against West Chester (Pa.).
Each summer, Williams said, “We try to have a mindset that we’re going to be better than the team before us. We wanted to come in and just work harder, every year.”
“Me and Ben, this past year, I don’t think we’ve ever had as much fun in the off-season as we did this past year. It was a blast.
“We didn’t take any breaks. If anything, you’d catch us in (the Carter Center on campus) twice a day, trying to get another lift in, or get some more conditioning in.”
“We knew it was something we had to do, and there was no way to get out of it and get around it. So the only way we found to deal with it was to just embrace it, and make some fun out of it.”
Williams is majoring in recreation and tourism management, with an emphasis in sports management. He could graduate next month, he said, but he’s considering returning for the spring semester and may pick up a second major in social work.
Meanwhile, he is content with his roles on the football team. Those contributions do not all show up in the usual displays of statistics.
In his four years, he has four carries and three pass receptions. This season, he has made six tackles on special teams and even has a 15-yard kickoff return to his credit.
“Being a fullback, really we’re kind of just a glorified lineman,” he said. “But it’s nice to hear your running backs talk about, ‘I couldn’t have done it today without my fullbacks, without my linemen.’ It feels good to know that we’re setting up a block for him to go score a touchdown.”
On the occasions when he gets to carry the ball, Williams said, “It’s the best. I can’t even put it into words. ... Anytime they put a fullback run in, me and Shaun Workinger, we just get the biggest grin on our face, because we never get the ball.
“So anytime we get it, we’re so excited to get our three yards, to power forward and get our first down or whatever. It’s nice to get a play every once in a while.”
Williams said, “I love my running back group; I love ’em to death.”
He also loves his role on special teams.
Williams said, “I’m in charge of the punt team, so I’m pretty much like the quarterback out there on the special teams. I have to make my calls, I have to read what (the opposition is) doing, and what they’re bringing. I just have to make sure that all my guys know what they’re doing, who they’re blocking ... .”
“We have practiced and practiced and practiced all these calls. We’re like a polished gem on special teams now.”
Williams said he tells the team’s younger punters to “just trust us. Go through his steps, do his thing, and trust us, that we’re going to get the blocks and he’s not going to get that punt blocked. ... We’ve got your back. We’re not going to let anyone get near you.”
He said that his drive to work hard came from his parents Tim and Tracy Williams. “My dad pushed me since I was a little kid ... to get me in physical condition to play some football,” he said.
Williams said that when he started football, in the Beckley area midget league, “I just remember all the coaches were looking at me, my first year in midget league, and (saying) ‘This guy’s small, I don’t think he’s going to be able to do much.’
“Steve Kelly came up and grabbed me and kind of took me under his wing. He pushed me until he couldn’t push me any more, and then he started reaping the benefits of watching me out there running around full-speed all the time and just having fun.”
Williams said that when he was about 7 years old, playing linebacker for the ‘B team,’ Kelly looked his way. “He said, ‘Whenever you get to college, I want some tickets at the front gate,’ and I said, ‘You got ’em. They’re all yours.’ ”
According to Williams, Kelly “can’t make it to all of (Concord’s games), but he’s been to a few. Every time I see him, he gets the biggest hug. I thank him, every time I see him, for everything he did for me, and pushing me as hard as he did, and not letting me give up.”
“My first year of football, I did want to give up, because I was the small guy, and I was the guy that got picked on out there. ... I came back the next year and just started dominating. I just thank him so much for bringing me back.”
Williams went on to play linebacker, fullback and special teams for Concord alumnus John H. Lilly at Woodrow Wilson High School.
“The only time I came off the field was when we called a timeout,” Williams said. “Then I could go over and get some water.”
When it came time to choose a college, Williams said, “Right away, I knew I was coming to Concord, as soon as I came down to the campus. It was close to home. My parents could come watch me. That was the biggest thing, I just wanted my parents to be able to come watch me finish up my football career.”
When he first reported, he and the coaching staff were in agreement that he would play linebacker, but circumstances intervened.
“We only had one fullback at the time, Gary Roach,” Williams said. “The coaches looked at me and (told me), ‘We need a fullback. You’ve got the experience at it.’ I just said, ‘All right. Whatever I can do to help the team out, and get on the field.’ ”
He said the collegiate game “was a huge change of pace. The game was faster; the offense was more complex. Everything about it — it was hard to get a grasp on, but once I finally got the grasp on the offense, and all the plays ... it’s like a second-nature kind of thing.”
Another thing he couldn’t have predicted was how much success the Mountain Lions would have this year.
“I wasn’t sure how this season was going to play out,” he said. “It’s been great. We’ve had so much fun this year.”
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