By Bruce Wood
Dartmouth tailback Milan Williams did not deserve to be All-Ivy League last year. He is too small. He’s not quite fast enough. He’s got no shot at moving very far up the Big Green career rushing list. His team simply isn’t good enough and he can’t help them win.
And it snows too much in Hanover.
There. That ought to take care of it. Everything except the snow part, at least.
Nothing, it turns out, lights a fire under Williams, the Big Green’s flashy 5-foot-9, 172-pound senior tri-captain from Mobile, Ala., quite like being disrespected. So go ahead. Bring it on.
“My motivation all through college, like it was all through high school and probably for the rest of my life, is having to earn respect,” the easy-going Williams says with more humor than rancor. “A lot of people have either looked over me or looked down on me for one reason or another. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional, it happens.”
A case can be made that it happened at the end of last season when Williams finished third in the Ivy League in rushing (second in the conference in yards per carry) and was completely overlooked in the All-Ivy voting. Ivy League rushers No. 1 and No. 2 made the first team. Rusher No. 4 made the second team. And No.
3? Nada. Zilch. Nothing. Not even honorable mention.
Make no mistake about it. The slight hurt. But after the initial disappointment Williams put it to good use.
“It’s been a big part of my motivation this year,” he explained last week. “I took that very personally. I trained all offseason to make sure that there would be no excuse for me to get slighted again, or have a bad year.
“It is what it is. One of my favorite quotes is, ‘I can complain, but nobody’s going to care.’ So my plan is to do something about it on the field. If I can rush for 50 yards a game and we still win the Ivy League, that’s fine with me. But I feel they coincide; If I do well, the team does well, and if the team does well, I do well.”
That was certainly the case at UMS-Wright Preparatory school in Mobile, where Williams helped his team to a 38-4 mark over his three seasons as a letterwinner.
That despite very nearly seeing his football career derailed as a sophomore.
“It was my first year starting in high school football and I put a lot into it,” Williams recalled. “I wanted to make sure there were no excuses as far as playing time. The whole season I was battling with a senior who was the best player on the team, and then played at Alabama for a couple of years. I also played basketball and did track that year so I wasn’t as focused on my schoolwork as I was previously, and my parents let me know it.
“They said if things didn’t change they would take me out and send me to Alabama School of Math and Sciences, which has no football. They had only basketball. I mean, I like basketball, but not that much. So I cleaned it up and never really had a problem with it after that.”
Not in the classroom. Certainly not on the field.
Williams finished his senior year with 1,662 yards, a six-touchdown, 238-yard game, and the kind of grades that saw him fielding phone calls from select schools in the faraway Northeast. He ended up making a recruiting visit to Princeton but didn’t feel comfortable. He flirted with Yale, where high school teammate Ashley Wright played wide receiver, but saw his interest cool after the Bulldogs wanted him to play defensive back.
When Dartmouth first called he was anything but overwhelmed.
“Ashley Wright was one of my best friends and when I told him about the call he said, ‘You don’t want to go to school there. They ski to class.’ I didn’t even like cold, so I wasn’t interested.”
It was a somewhat unexpected visit by newly hired Dartmouth coach Buddy Teevens and offensive line coach Cyril Brockmeier that finally tipped the scales in more ways than one.
“I remember I was at lunch with my senior class and when I got back to school the lady at the front office said, ‘There was a Coach Buddy Teevens here to see you with a very large man,’ ” Williams said, punctuating the “very” with a giggle.
He eventually agreed to a visit and discovered that, while the students don’t really ski to class in Hanover, there are days when they could.
“It was very cold,” he said. “My Yale visit and Princeton visit it wasn’t that cold so I packed the same clothes to come up here. I think I had two sweaters and a jacket. I wasn’t even off the plane yet and I felt it. I jumped back in the breezeway and asked the pilot what the temperature was. He said, ‘It’s a good day. It’s 3 degrees.’ I told him that was the opposite of a good day.”
Ironically, it was sledding on the golf course with assistant coach Sammy McCorkle that helped seal the deal. “He challenged me to a race and he ended up hurting his back,” Williams said. “I was like, ‘This guy’s messing up his back for me, I’ve got to come.’ I had a great time. It was a beautiful campus and loved it here.
“But Coach Teevens was the main reasons why I came to Dartmouth College. He never BS’d me. He did what he said. He never gave me promises that he didn’t keep. He said he couldn’t guarantee me playing time but he would guarantee me the opportunity and that’s all I wanted.”
Williams has made the most of that opportunity. As a freshman he was the Big Green’s second-leading rusher with 178 yards. Hampered by a hand injury in the preseason he managed just 175 yards on the ground as a sophomore before coming back a year ago to have the most productive season by a Dartmouth running back since 2001, and post the second-best yards-per-carry figure for a Big Green rushing leader in more than 30 years. If he matches last year’s 82.1 yards per game he’ll graduate as Dartmouth’s second all-time leading rusher. And if he boosts that average to 125 yards per game he’ll break the school’s career rushing mark.
Not bad for a guy who is too small and not quite fast enough.
“He is so competitive,” said Teevens. “He’s a surprisingly physical runner for a guy his size. You look at him in terms of stature and weight and most people are bigger than he is. But you see his work ethic in the weight room. You see how he doesn’t go down and takes on guys instead of running out of bounds, sometimes almost to his own detriment.
“He’s always fighting, fighting, fighting. He has such competitive desire that he stays up too long on occasion, although I’d rather have it that way. He’ll take on a safety or a linebacker and physically go out and block people. It’s nice to see a guy that feels like he’s got something to prove go out and do it.”
Away from the field, the geography major has thrived as well. He’s acted in Dartmouth productions and thoroughly enjoyed melding into a part of campus life far removed from the gridiron. He’s written a 10-minute play that he hopes to have produced this winter. He’s involved with Dartmouth Programming Board and Class Council, has appeared in promotional materials for the football program and done Dartmouth’s challenging Tuck Business Bridge program.
Williams interned with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last winter and is fiercely determined to one day be an NFL general manager. Could it happen?
Do the too-small, not-fast-enough tailback who will graduate as one of Dartmouth’s all-time leading rushers a favor and tell him absolutely not.
There. That ought to take care of it.
A veteran writer and observer of Dartmouth athletics, Bruce Wood launched a web site in 2005, www.biggreenalert.com, specializing in Big Green football news coverage.