SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- It would be so easy for Cody Williams to delve deep into the abyss of hype that encompasses him.
Nobody could blame him if he did.
Williams is regarded a hero of sorts around these parts. He is quarterback of the defending Division 1 Western Mass. Super Bowl champion Springfield Central High School, leading the Golden Eagles to their first postseason title in 11 years and, in the process, helped pull Central out from under the long shadow cast down by their well-established gridiron neighbors to the south -- stalwart Longmeadow High.
The countless number of congratulatory handshakes and hearty pats on the back Williams has received since Central's 27-0 defeat down of Longmeadow last December is enough to inflate anyone's ego. But not Williams. The senior has managed to keep both feet firmly planted on the ground, shrugging off the new-found attention that has received. For Williams, everything starts and finishes with team.
“I’m not into individual awards or personal accolades or things of that nature,” said Williams, who stands 6-3, 180 pounds and has a rifle for a right arm. “I only have one goal in mind and that is for our team to win a state championship. Nothing more than that.”
But deep down you know Williams is proud of his team's Super Bowl triumph over the Lancers -- a program that has barreled its way to the forefront of the Western Mass. football landscape, and has rightfully earned its place among state's very best over the past three decades with a record 13 Super Bowls to its credit, is certainly a major achievement. Factor in that Central lost to Longmeadow in the 2010 and 2011 Super Bowls, makes last year's feat all the more rewarding.
"We knew going into that game they had beaten us the previous two Super Bowls," Williams said. "We went out there and were determined not to let it happen again. It came down to who wanted it more. We just went out and executed and we prevailed."
By his own admission, Williams adheres to the ‘that was then, this is now’ theory. What took place nine months ago is in the past. The immediate focus now sits squarely on the present and future, with the realization that more work needs to be done.
Williams says his concentration centers on the larger picture in terms of maintaining Central's resurgence and its continuing efforts to transform itself into a top tier program. Winning a state championship would obviously do wonders to fortify that objective.
With last year’s MIAA ruling to do away with sectional Super Bowls by integrating a statewide six-division playoff system, the stakes have become a lot higher.
Central, a Division 2 entree, is considered one of the early favorites to compete for a state crown next winter, and it has the quarterback in place to do so. But the journey won't be easy.
“We know everyone is going to give us their best shot, especially after winning a Super Bowl” said Williams. “We just need to go out and play every game like it's a Super Bowl. We need to play all out at 100 percent full speed, rep to rep with no regrets. Just like we did last year.”
The Golden Eagles open their season on September 6th at Everett, the only team to defeat the Golden Eagles last season. They also face several formidable adversaries within the restructured AA Conference including Longmeadow, East Longmeadow, Westfield and cross-city rival Putnam.
Having played sparingly as a freshman at the varsity level, Williams took full control of the quarterbacking reins at the start of his sophomore season and hasn't let go since. He is 20-3 as a starter, completing 197 of 325 passes for 3,076 yards, 35 TDs and only 12 picks.
When the circumstances call for it, Williams will run with the football too. He has gained 223 yards on 88 attempts, reaching the end zone 7 times.
Williams' skill set and ascending attributes has earned him a spot among the top-rated quarterbacks in the state. Enough so that he has already accepted a scholarship offer to attend Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ next fall. Monmouth, a member of the Football Championship Subdivision, will be part of the Big South Conference upon Williams’ arrival in 2014.
Williams had received interest from several Division 1 schools but was often told he was their second or third choice at quarterback. Therefore, after receiving solid overtures from the University at Albany and Monmouth, Williams says his decision in selecting Monmouth consequently came down to them having the two programs of study he was interested in -- sports management and physical education.
Sixth-year Central head coach Valdamar Brower, who has had an up-close and personal account of Williams' progressions over the past three years, always believed his star signal-caller could play at a high-level collegiately. A stellar player in his own right at nearby Northampton High School and later a two time Division 1-AA All American defensive end at UMass, Brower offers no hesitation in his praise for Williams and his unlimited potential.
“He has grown physically, he has grown mentally and he has matured,” said Brower. “I’ve seen all three phases and I’m very excited about his development. He has great upside and that's not going to stop because Cody has a great passion for the game and is always looking to get better and he will get better.”
Williams' maturation process will be the one intangible most-closely examined this season. During a game against Chicopee High School last year, a skirmish broke out in which Williams was ejected for allegedly throwing a punch at a Chicopee player. What followed was an automatic two-game suspension as prescribed by MIAA rules which states any player ejected for punching another player must sit out the next two games. Although the decision was publicly scrutinized by Central coaches and players alike, Williams accepted his punishment and stood along the sidelines during those two games supporting to his teammates.
“To be honest I was and still am ashamed of myself for that,” said Williams, a team captain. “I realize I have to watch what I do and set the right example for other kids. My passion for this game is insane but I also know I need to control what I say and do.”
In spite of Williams’ absence, Central won its next two games with Williams’ cousin Ju’an Williams filling in as signal-caller and helping lead the Golden Eagles. When Cody Williams returned, the wins continued, culminating in their Super Bowl victory to cap off a remarkable 12-1 season.
“Nobody on this team ever likes to lose,” stated Williams. “Our goal is to be at the top and stay there. It’s always been that way no matter who is out on the field.”
Williams considers himself a football purist. He takes his craft quite seriously and spends most of his free time breaking down game film in an effort to dissect weaknesses and tendencies within an opposing team’s defensive scheme.
That inclination began early in his high school career and continues today. As a freshman, Williams got an early baptism to the various nuances and up-tempo speed of the varsity game first hand after filling in for then starter Tyler Dowd, who was sidelined with an injury. By his sophomore season, having absorbed valuable on-the-field experience as a freshman, Williams' progressions were now ahead of schedule. A strong, accurate throwing arm, his ability to read defenses and make adjustments on the fly and a perpetual work-ethic convinced his coaches he be moved to the top of the depth chart.
“He’s relentless in trying to get better, trying to learn and trying to make his teammates better,” Brower said. “He has a very high football I.Q. and continues to progress because he never stops in trying to become a better football player. As a team we have a lot of expectations this year.
"In regards to Cory, he had a big leadership role last year as a junior so we are looking for that to continue again this year. He is a lot more mature than I was at his age. Cody just needs to remain humble, be ready to fight and not lose who he is. A lot of people will pat you on the head but you still need to keep it going. You can never be content in this game. You constantly need to keep improving.”
Williams' father, Rich, serves as an assistant on the Central coaching staff. Despite having his father on the field with him, Williams says there has never been any preferential treatment given nor is any expected.
“He’s told me how it is ever since I was little,” said Williams of his father. “There is no parental favoritism here at all. He’s supportive of me but he tells you like it is. To be honest, if it were the other way around, it would have gotten me no where.”
Williams’ other primary support system comes from his mother Sarah, brother Luis Ortiz, brother Richard and sister Corina. All of whom, according to Williams, have played a major role in his maturity and strong upbringing.
SPRINGFIELD CENTRAL AT A GLANCE
Coach: Valdamar Brower (6th year, 40-20 overall)
Last Season: 12-1, Won Division 1 West Super Bowl
Returning Starters: 14 (seven offense, seven defense)
Key Returnees: Sr. QB Cody Williams, Sr. ATH Ju'uan Williams, Sr. LB Kenneth Marshall, Sr. OL/DL Sean Lee, Sr. RB/DB Da'Quon Clemons, Sr. OL/DL Khalil Walker, Sr. TE/LB Luis Ortiz, Sr. ATH Malik Johnson, Sr. RB/DB Troy Morrow, Sr. LB Jon Morales, Sr. RB/LB Marcal Davis
Outlook: Brower's building job at Central has been slow and steady, but after last year's Super Bowl-winning success the Eagles have evolved into a thoroughbred, with respect across the state. In the newly-aligned Division 2 West, the Eagles figure to be a heavy favorite, though some familiar foes (Putnam, Longmeadow, Minnechaug, Holyoke) figure to make life difficult along the way. In Williams the Eagles have one of the state's slickest passers, but also a winner (20-3 as a starter) with a certain urban bullheadedness not often seen in Bay State quarterback prospects. He'll have plenty of athletes to throw to on the perimeter, the most prolific his cousin Ju'uan, who will be used in a garden variety of roles on both sides of the ball. Clemons figures to be the incumbent at tailback, with his home-run capability and terrific upper body strength, but look for Morrow and Davis to be significant factors in the running game as well. Down in the trenches, the 6-foot-4, 260-pound Lee is one of the state's more unheralded offensive line prospects, while the burly Walker will be the war daddy in the middle of the defensive line, plugging the inside gaps. Overall, this could be the best team yet of the Brower era at Central, and there have been some good ones. The Eagles' Sept. 6 season-opener at Everett will be appointment viewing.