Cary Williams Sr. has a different view of the way everything unfolded, as you might expect. He admits he got physical with his sons. He admits he made a lot of mistakes as a parent. He does not believe they should have been taken away from him.
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It would be a tidy end to this story if Williams' life was suddenly perfect after Golson and his wife became his adoptive parents. But hurt and anger would linger for years in Williams' life.
"The transition was hard," Williams said. "There was a time when I was a rebel, when I didn't want to listen to Calvin because he wasn't my father. I thank God they never wavered, that they always felt like we were special kids. They could have given us back to the government, and they didn't. They cared enough to take us into their own home, even though they were a newlywed couple who had been together for all of three months. They stuck with us and were patient, and they didn't have to do that."
Family counseling, and weekly treks to the African Methodist Episcopal Church on Sundays, helped heal some of Williams' emotional wounds. Whatever rage remained, he tried to channel into sports.
"He was such a good baseball player, people started calling him Junior after Ken Griffey Jr.," Golson said. "When he was 13 years old, he ended up playing on a baseball team for 16-year-olds. People were always saying 'This kid is going to go to the majors!' He was a great basketball player as well, but he always told people he was going to play in the NFL."
Williams' skills as a cornerback were obvious when he got to high school. He grew to be 6-foot-1, and he was fast and could change directions gracefully, but attending three different high schools in three years scared away a lot of recruiters. After his junior year, he was caught using a false address so he could attend a better public school in Coral Gables, and was told he needed to return to Chaminade High School Hollywood, Fla. Even then, it was a long trip.
"I had to take a bus at 5:30 a.m. just to catch another bus so I could go get to school," he said.
His senior year, no one would throw the ball to his side of the field, and he had only one interception. Florida State defensive coordinator Chuck Amato told Golson he really wanted to offer Williams a scholarship, but he'd just received a commitment from Antonio Cromartie, and didn't have another that he could offer. Williams said his father, who he had intermittent contact with, talked him out of accepting a scholarship offer to N.C. State, convinced the University of Miami would eventually show interest. Miami never made an offer.
Williams picked Fordham University from the offers that remained, but it was never a great fit. Frustration and bitterness from his childhood bubbled up every time a coach barked at him. It opened up old scars he thought had faded. He was clearly one of the most talented players on the team, but he got in a petty argument during practice one day with an assistant coach over why he had to take his helmet off on a freezing cold day. Fordham suspended him, and at the end of the year decided his attitude was so toxic they booted him off the team.
"It was a good learning experience for me because I had to learn to shut my mouth, regardless of how I felt about the situation," Williams said. "I was one of those guys who didn't care about anyone's feelings but my own, and it was just a selfish attitude."
He moved home to Florida, and moved back in with the Golsons. He struggled with depression, and eventually took a job working for DirectTV. He worked with the company for nearly a year, taking calls in the call center or going out in the field and installing satellite dishes. Williams might be the only cornerback in the NFL who has not only installed the league's Sunday Ticket package at a customer's house, but also appeared on that same satellite dish years later.
"It was a humbling experience," Williams said. "It was not one of the best situations for me. I wasn't in the best shape mentally. It was a hard transition. I knew in my heart of hearts, the negative stuff wasn't me. That wasn't a part of my personality I wanted to show. I knew I had to change. I was a hurt kid, trying to deal with a lot of stuff. But I knew it wasn't my destiny to be sitting at home working for DirectTV."
Washburn, a tiny Division II school in Topeka, Kansas, threw him a lifeline. They called and offered him a scholarship on the condition that he redshirt his first year, and he accepted it sight unseen. He knew it was the last chance he was going get to be the football player he wanted to be. He spent two years dominating the competition, intercepting virtually "every pass" thrown his way (he picked off 11 in two years). He left some of that pent-up anger on the football field in Topeka.
Kansas University invited him to attend their Pro Day, and after a strong showing, the Tennessee Titans took a flyer on him in the seventh round with the 229th pick. He spent a season and a half in the NFL's version of limbo, bouncing back and forth between the practice squad and the active roster. The Ravens director of pro personnel, Vince Newsome, had always been a fan of Williams size and speed, and he figured at the very least, Williams could be a good special teams player. The Ravens snatched him off the Titans practice squad, intrigued by the prospect of molding him further.
"I didn't even know the Ravens were interested in me," Williams said. "In Tennessee, I had been off the squad, on the squad, then back off, and for them to come in and give me an opportunity was crazy. The day they called, my phone was off. I went to pick it up and saw I had like 12 missed calls."
Letting it go
He kept his head down in Baltimore, worked hard in the weight room and in practice. John Harbaugh told a reporter how impressed he was with how willing Williams was to take advice from the coaches. Williams called Calvin and Trina constantly to remind them how thankful he was that they came into his life, and to check in their two biological kids, Calvin Jr. and Aryana, who he considered his younger siblings. He didn't share his story with very many people, but one day, he was sitting by himself in the locker room when Ray Lewis walked across the locker room and sat down next to him. They had never really exchanged more than a few pleasantries. Williams kept thinking about the times when he was a kid, pretending to be Ray in the park with his friends.