June 22nd was one of the best days of 15-year-old Duaron Williams' young life.
It was Fathers Day, and for Williams, that day had always taken on a significantly deeper importance to him since his father Charles Allen Williams, 43, died of a heart attack in 2001. Duaron was 8 years old.
On this Fathers Day, Duaron stood proud after being named the top 2012 offensive lineman at the Schumann's regional Ultimate 100 National Underclassman Combine in Atlanta.
He knew his father would be proud and it all gave Duaron a bigger sense of pride having earned the honor on Father's Day. But he couldn't call his father. Couldn't discuss what he had accomplished like many other campers and their fathers could that day.
He did, however, have a phone call to make. Kenard Lang came into Duaron Williams' life just before Charles had his heart attack. And he would be there, from then after.
"He told me he was really proud of me and nothing can stop me except myself," Williams said.
The NFL star
Duaron says he's known his Orlando Jones High School football coach since he was "knee-high to a grasshopper."
It's a clichéd yet humorous analogy coming from the 6-foot-4 and 280-pound lineman.
It's not hard, however, to imagine Williams standing "knee-high" to Lang. When the two met, Lang was an NFL star and Williams was a kindergarten-aged bible schooler. They attended the same church and the two formed a friendship that they would rekindle each time Lang returned during the NFL offseasons.
Lang has always come back. Orlando is home.
He starred at Evans High in the early-80s under current Edgewater coach Bill Gierke. He lettered in three sports at Evans, but it was football that got him a scholarship to the University of Miami.
Lang was a star for the Hurricanes, earning Big East rookie of the year honors in 1994, and then All-Big East honors the two succeeding years before leaving early to enter the NFL.
He was selected in the first round as the No. 17 pick in the 1997 NFL Draft by the Washington Redskins and played 10 seasons in the NFL with the Redskins, Browns and Broncos. His last year on the field was 2006 in Denver.
"All the kids looked up to him because he was in the NFL," Duaron's mother Angela Williams remembers. "That drew the attention right there and everybody wanted to talk to him. He would always encourage all the kids about getting an education."
Williams relished church Sundays when Lang was in town. The NFL star was nothing more than a plate donator to the rest of the congregation, just like them, the members of the New Covenant Baptist Church of Orlando. But for Williams, he was a whole lot more.
"I started attending the church when I was four years old," said Duaron. "So he's known me since about then and all during his NFL years he served as a role model for me, a model of what I wanted to become in life."
Back then, Williams was almost too young to understand the stature of his church friend's NFL stardom. What he saw was a big man who he knew played football, but a man who also stressed values and was always helping others.
"I saw how he took care of his parents and our church and that's what I really want to do in life," Williams said. "I want to be able to take care of my mom and my church and community.
"I remember when he first told me he was going to be coaching at Jones. I was so excited. I knew he had that expert experience playing the game and that he could teach me a lot."
Through the years, hundreds, if not thousands, of talented area youth athletes have been sucked into the ways of the street, victims of the only society and culture they know.
Some could have been stars, making legitimate millions playing a game, but like Lang will say, it takes a work ethic.
Many end up behind bars or dead and still others just wander the streets, picking up an odd job here and there, legitimate or not.
"It's easy," Angela Williams said of falling into the ways of the street. "You gotta really have a great role model, mentors who will teach you the right direction.
"[Coach Lang] was a real positive role model for him. He also said how it's very important to be church-oriented, so at the church he'd tell the kids about how, by putting God first, your goals you set are possible."
Duaron didn't fall into the ways of some of his peers. He knows people who have died, and still more people who are either behind bars or have spent time within the jail system.
He hung with the right crowd, according to his mother. His main friends growing up were fellow Jones High players like Steven Michel, Oron Maxwell and others.
"They were always at my house," mom said.
All along, Lang knew Duaron Williams was a special kid, and it wasn't because of football.
"The good thing about him is he always strives to be the best," Lang said. "Duaron never played football, I'd say, till his seventh or eighth grade year, but I knew he had the work ethic.
"I never knew to what magnitude it would be for him, how good he'd be, because he started football so late. I talked him into playing."
The magnitude is starting to come into focus. Following the Atlanta NUC competition, Williams moved on to the national challenge at the University of Oklahoma, where he did it again, and was named the top lineman of the 2012 class of participants within the NUC structure.
"The competition level there was unimaginable," Williams said. "It was the top players from around the nation. Everyone there was a great athlete, so I had to be at the top of my game.
"With me winning this MVP at this camp, I'm now the No. 1 ranked offensive linemen in the nation for the 2012 class by NUC. That's a huge accomplishment."
Living the Dream
The fast rise of Williams is even a little tough for him to fully comprehend.
"Yeah, it feels like a dream a little, but I'm still not satisfied," he said. "I still have a lot of work to do and I can always get better. I won't ever settle for best, when better is available."
It doesn't really surprise Lang any more. Williams and the rest of the Jones players have bought into his philosophy. That's why the Jones Tigers are actually living up to their incredible potential this year. At 6-0 and heading into a Friday night district game against South Sumter, the Tigers have been able to see the benefits of following their leader.
When Lang was hired as head coach three years ago, there had always been similar talent, but the teams almost always under-achieved.
"One thing I always tell the kids, if you don't know how to play, that's OK. If you have the work ethic, come on, 'cause we'll teach ya," Lang said. "As long as you got a good work ethic, everything should go smooth.
"And I told the kids the same thing at Edgewater (as an assistant) before here, there is the same amount of talent out there, the only difference is the students. All they have to do is start believing in themselves."
Jones players have that belief. And their goal is to be playing across the street, in their home stadium at the Citrus Bowl for the 2A state title Dec. 11.
"We don't accept being average. We play this to win a state championship," Lang said. "That's why we're here. We don't play just to win district. Our first year we made the playoffs, first time in like 13 years. After we lost the game, they were disappointed, but not as disappointed as they should have been, because we made it to the playoffs.
"They made it to the dance but they were kicked off the dance floor the minute the first song came on. I'm trying to get them in the mindset that, 'Hey, you want to stay in there until the last song's played."
This year they intend to dance. Lang won't let them settle.
Lang gives back
"He's an awesome coach and he takes care of the team real well," Williams said. "He works real hard trying to ensure that we all excel in school and on the field, and most of all he always encourages us to get to the next level and to succeed there, as well."
Williams is right. He has a 3.77 GPA and had a 1320 on his PSAT, the early prep test for underclassmen. His focus is impressive. He knows what it will take to get him where he wants to go in life, and he's applying everything Lang teaches.
Lang says he has "eight or 10" seniors with over a 3.0 GPA, and close to that many juniors, as well.
Lang didn't have to come back home to Orlando. Many athletes do not go back home.
"After my third year in the league, I came home every season and worked out," Lang said. "It was actually probably the best thing for me, so I didn't get disconnected from the people here. I used to go out to Evans High School and work out with the kids."
It's all about giving back for Lang. Growing up in Orlando and seeing schools in the same Orange County school district have better facilities and opportunities than kids at schools like Evans and Jones had always bothered him. He wants to make a difference.
"I just like to contribute to the people who don't have the chances and the amenities as the other schools," Lang said, "and I'm not talking only about football. I'm talking about getting the kids in the right mindset and getting them the right assistance to guide them."
Lang and Williams are still members of the New Covenant Baptist Church. The third floor of the church is named "The Kenard Huddle" for the work he has done with the non-profit Kenard Lang Foundation, the motto for which is, "Making a Difference Each Day in Every Way."
"I tell them, football or anything, as long as you get a scholarship and go to college and be a better man leaving here, then I've done my job," Lang said.
Williams will start to bring in college scholarship offers by the bag full as his time gets closer. He'll be a senior next year and is currently leaning, you guessed it, toward the University of Miami.
"The main thing that I told him is, 'When you start receiving offers, you better breathe easy and keep your head small. Don't walk around with your chest all poked out with a big head because nothing is etched in stone,' " Lang said.
"I think he'll be cool though."
Chris Hays is the Sentinel's recruiting coverage coordinator and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun