This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Post-practice media availability at Santa Monica College is a low-key affair. There might be a reporter or two on hand, but most practices end with a slow trickle into the locker room out of the California sunshine.
Last summer, Troy Williams started running wind sprints as the rest of his teammates were walking off the field. Not long after, three teammates were running with him. Then five.
"Pretty soon, it's 20 little ducklings following Troy on these wind sprints," said Tim Kaub, Williams' former offensive coordinator. "That's what he is. And he's not doing it to show off to his teammates. It's just that Troy never wants to lose, and he never wants to waste a moment."
In only eight months, the Utes have picked up on Williams' ambition as well. The 6-foot-2 junior quarterback has ascended to starter and team captain without playing a game in a Utah uniform. The team's success is widely understood to hinge on how Williams will lead or fail to lead the Utes' passing game back to respectability.
Williams' fast rise in the program implies a certain kind of demeanor. Kaub calls him "a total alpha." Former teammate Marquis Lomax calls him "a grinder." Utah offensive coordinator Aaron Roderick calls him a "pure football junkie."
At just about every stop he's made, he's had teammates ready to follow him to the brink including at the school where he's only just arrived. He's consistently proven himself, in the eyes of peers and coaches, with a relentless work ethic.
"I feel like I've been through a lot," Williams said after a recent practice. "My dad always tells me hard work pays off, so I've just tried keeping up with that."
Becoming 'the best'
The Williams family is the kind that when they are out in front of their house, they stop passers-by to chat. Troy Williams Sr. aka "Big Troy" is an affable man who can still be found outside the stadium at Narbonne High School on Friday nights, offering chicken, ribs and burgers hot off the grill, and has a job at the school opening the gym to let neighborhood kids practice and play. Theirs is a family that believes in community.
But the tenet of hard work runs just as deeply. When Troy Jr. was growing up, his sleep was interrupted by his father waking up at 3 a.m. to go to his job as a receiver at a grocery store. Kim Williams would make her son breakfast and drop him off at school before heading off to her job as a courtroom stenographer. Troy Jr. spent a lot of time with his grandmother who lived down the street when his parents were busy, and he learned to work on homework early when his father drew out his old report cards and challenged him to be an even better student.
"I guess he just saw the hours we put in," said Big Troy. "We kind of showed him by example."
Troy Jr. quickly channeled his energy into sports: He earned the nickname "sporty" by showing up around town in full gear, but also playing with older kids in football, basketball and baseball. He excelled in everything he tried.
It didn't take long for Troy Jr. to start getting attention for his quarterback play. When he arrived at Narbonne, he practiced with the varsity. Then-Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian offered him a scholarship in 10th grade, and after Williams committed, he remained steadfastly loyal even after he was rated the No. 1 dual-threat quarterback in the country by Rivals and other offers poured in.
He inspired the same kind of devotion from teammates. The Gauchos were 25-4 under WIlliams as a quarterback, and former teammate A.J. Richardson said Williams was the unquestioned leader on and off the field.
Perhaps his finest hour came in the toughest game of his career. In the 2012 Southern California Regional Open Division final against powerhouse Corona Centennial, the Gauchos fell to a 27-8 halftime deficit. Frustration boiled in the locker room. Williams, who had sprained his shoulder the week before, blamed himself.
"Things wasn't going our way," Richardson remembered. "Troy came out and said, 'This is our last game. Let's go out with a bang.' "
Narbonne didn't win that day, but they made it a game worth remembering. Williams accounted for 367 yards and three touchdowns through the air, and added 105 on the ground. Kaub told him to run read-option, and Williams' decision-making led the Gauchos all the way back to a 34-all tie in the final minute before Corona Centennial won in the closing seconds.
"He took the game over," Kaub said. "I've never seen any of that from a quarterback. I coached him for a long time, but I didn't make Troy: He made me. I knew that day he was the best I had ever been around."
Starting over in Santa Monica
If Williams was such an unflappable winner, how come it didn't work out at Washington?
It's hard to pry the story out completely, in part because both sides have moved on so cleanly. Aside from saying he looks forward to playing the Huskies on Oct. 29, Williams doesn't talk much about his days in Seattle. A preseason darling with a promising sophomore quarterback, the Huskies don't have much to say either.
In one sense, it can be viewed as a perfect storm: Williams was hurt when Sarkisian left for USC, and then never quite seemed to fit in to Washington's plans. In 2014, when both passers ahead of him struggled, Husky fans started growing an interest in seeing the touted recruit play.
He got his shot against Arizona State: a 24-10 loss that was, by several accounts, an unwinnable situation in which heavy wind gusts and the Sun Devils blitz doomed him from the start. Even after he left, some Huskies faithful were left with the feeling that Williams never truly got a shot.
He ended up back at home in Carson, getting a reunion with Kaub at Santa Monica. Still, it was hard not to stew over leaving the program.
"It was a humbling experience for him," Big Troy said. "But we taught him when things get tough, you gotta dig deep. I can tell he was a little down, but if you've got 90 percent negativity and 10 percent positivity, hang on to the positivity and run with it."
It wasn't an easy drop from Division I to junior college. After two years of dining at the UW training table, Williams learned to subsist on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches. The Corsairs' intimidation factor was undermined when many of their jerseys didn't match as they took the field. Even his commute from his parents' home to school was challenging.
Williams learned to make the best of it. Despite the long drives, he would arrive at 5 or 6 a.m. to lead the team in workouts.
"Troy don't play," said Lomax, a linebacker who played with Williams at Narbonne and Santa Monica. "He makes practice so much harder than it has to be. Troy was always prepared."
With Williams at the helm, Santa Monica cruised through an 11-0 year. Williams threw for 2,750 yards and 31 touchdowns against four interceptions a clear cut above his competition. Kaub estimated that Williams played in the fourth quarter only three games during the run.
But the biggest transition Kaub saw was in Williams' mindset. When he started at Santa Monica, he still was stewing. By season's end, all of his fear, his uncertainty, his doubt were completely erased.
"First week or so, he wasn't having fun, then something just switched," he said. "Troy was Troy again. I'm sure there was a point where there was that fear where he was operating without a net. But after that switch, there was no doubt that he was going to get right back to where he belongs."
Roderick does have a problem with his starting quarterback, and at times he's had to lay down the law: Williams spends too much time watching film.
"He's in there for hours and hours and hours," Roderick said. "We have to kick him out. Literally have to kick him out, 'Go home, go to bed, get some rest. Go to the cafeteria, get something to eat.' "
But the coaching staff hasn't had any problem getting Williams up to speed, or to work harder in practice. He's often found doing push-ups or running wind sprints after Utah's sessions, squeezing every minute out of the time he has on the field. That's something he learned from junior college: It's not guaranteed that he can be on that field forever, so he uses the time he has.
Teammates seem to appreciate it. Of Utah's five team captains, Williams is the only one who hasn't yet played a down for the Utes. Roderick isn't surprised.
"He's earned the kind of respect from me that if I had a vote, I would've voted for him too," he said. "It says a lot about how much respect he's earned from his teammates in a short amount of time."
Those who know Williams from his Narbonne or Santa Monica days said Utah has landed a winner, someone who has the potential to fundamentally shake up what has been a stagnant passing game. His mere presence has bred confidences in his teammates that the Utes' offense will finally earn its keep.
"He came in with the right mindset, knowing everything is a business and that everything had to be on point about his game and his mentals," said receiver Tyler Cooperwood, one of Williams' roommates. "I see him as a young Cam Newton, just because of the swag he's got, the way he commands the offense, the way he's built real strong and powerful."
It's perhaps an unwieldy comparison, given what Williams has left to accomplish.
But wherever he has gone so far, his teammates have been willing to follow. And Utah is hopeful that success might just follow this time, too.
The Williams record
When Utah quarterback Troy Williams has gotten a chance to start for a whole season, wins have stacked up:
2011, Narbonne HS • 11-3, won LA City Section DI title, threw for 3,247 yards, 34 TDs
2012, Narbonne HS • 14-1, won LA City Section DI title, lost in CIF SoCal Regional Open Division final, threw for 2,886 yards, 39 TDs, 6 INTs
2015, Santa Monica College • 11-0, threw for 2,750 yards, 31 TDs, 4 INTs