Athens Academy senior James Williams has heard about the kick for a year now. He’s been asked many times ‘aren’t you that kicker’ in passing.
In last season’s Backyard Brawl Williams broke the school record for longest made field goal when he hit a 57-yard field goal just before halftime that gave the Spartans some momentum before going into halftime of their first of two meetings with the Wolverines in 2018.
In many ways, it’s changed his life. Williams was already being recruited by the college ranks (he’s now committed to Syracuse where he will enroll in January to become the punter). He’d hit that same kick multiple times in camps, practices and warm ups. It wasn’t until he nailed the school record that people in the community understood the kind of weapon Williams had become for the Spartans.
“It made people know my name in the area,” Williams said. “I’ve been asked a lot. Everyone asks me if I’m the kicker. That’s what they ask first. Everyone was at that game and it was packed. It’s really cool for people to know that.”
Williams is only the latest in a long line of exceptional specialists at Athens Academy. Prior to Williams was Drew Byus. Before Byus was Michael Santamaria who played for Virginia Tech. Former Georgia Bulldog, Billy Bennett, was too a former Spartan.
Breaking a kicking record at Athens Academy means having to pass some of the area’s best. Williams came in to high school aware of the legacy that has followed the kicking duties at the school.
There wasn’t any pressure, but Williams has a healthy respect for where he now sits in a very rich history.
“I feel really good about it coming from a place that is known for really good specialists,” Williams said. “I know Billy Bennett went to our school and kicked for Georgia and in the NFL for awhile and hopefully I can follow in his footsteps. I really wasn’t feeling any pressure.”
Williams isn’t just a kicker. During his middle school days Williams played defensive end and wide receiver. Williams began his high school career in a similar role.
“I played that until I got like my 10th concussion from Jackson Reynolds in my ninth grade seasons,” Williams said. “From then on I started focusing on kicking and it blossomed from there.”
He’s carried that athleticism and imposing build to the high school ranks. Williams stands 6 foot 1 inches tall and weighs nearly 185 pounds.
Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander thinks Williams’ unique athletic ability is part of what makes him such a weapon for the Spartans.
“It’s a big advantage, if he wanted to he could play wide receiver or play somewhere on defense,” Alexander said. “He’s a big and athletic kid. He’s explosive and he’s aggressive. As a young kid he was really aggressive. He could play wherever we wanted him to play.”
Williams flirted with playing more positions and he had a cup of coffee as a member Athens Academy’s soccer team as well. Concussions forced him to find alternative ways to impact the football field, but soccer just wasn’t a fit.
“I just hated it,” Williams said with a laugh. “It just kind of realized that it was just too much running. I didn’t want to get hurt because I realized I had a good chance of playing football in college. It was the right move.”