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Hafis Williams grateful for college decision

Walker Carey | Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hafis Williams knew he was going to have a difficult decision to make when it came to his recruitment. The Elizabeth, N.J., native had an early offer from Notre Dame, but he also received early offers from Maryland, Penn State and Rutgers, which would have allowed him to stay closer to home. However, Williams was not the one who ultimately made his college decision.

“It was actually my grandmother who told me where to go,” Williams said. “When she told me to go to Notre Dame, I knew I had to listen. She was definitely thinking more about life after football. She has never steered me wrong. It definitely worked out well because once I came to campus, I fell in love with it.”

Once Williams got to campus, it soon became clear to him that as a freshman he was going to preserve a year of eligibility. Williams believes that decision was a major factor in his development as a player.

“As it turns out, I am really glad I was held out for that first year,” the defensive lineman said. “I got a year to sit back and learn the system. It also allowed me to get faster and stronger in the weight room, which were things I needed to do. It was also a good opportunity to go out there on the show team against the first team every day. Going up against those guys definitely made me a better player.”

During that first year, Williams did not travel with the team to away games. It allowed him to develop a grasp of what being a college student was all about, he said.

“During that year with not traveling to away games, I was able to feel like a regular student,” Williams said. “It was a great thing to be able to experience what a regular student does on weekends. I had some great times. It is something I will always remember.”

The following season, Williams made his Irish debut late in the season-opening 35-0 victory over Nevada. Despite coming in with a large lead, Williams said he was beyond thrilled to be on the field for the first time.

“It was exciting to just go out there and get on the field for the very first time,” Williams said. “It did not matter to me that we were up by a lot. I was obviously glad we were winning. It was awesome to go out there and show how my hard work had paid off. It felt like I had really come far from not playing at all the previous season.”

Williams’ best opportunity for extended playing time came last season when senior nose guard Ian Williams missed the last five games of the regular season due to a knee injury.

“When Ian went down, it was definitely time for [senior nose guard Sean Cwynar] and I to step up,” Williams said. “It was just awesome. Those last five games were the highlight of my career here. I loved just being able to go out and play some really good football with my teammates. It definitely helped that we were able to get wins in those games. It just felt really good because I felt like the time had finally come for me to prove my skills.

Among those final five games was a road matchup with USC in which the Irish snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Trojans, a moment that stands out in Williams’ career, he said.

“The win at USC is definitely the most memorable game of my career,” Williams said. “We went there and people were counting us out, but we were able to grind through and win the game at the very end. It was very memorable. Beating them at their house was very special for us because we had not beaten them there or at all for so long. It felt unbelievable to finally get that monkey off our backs.”

One of Williams’ favorite things about his Notre Dame career has been the camaraderie that has been formed among his teammates on the defensive line.

“We have a bunch of characters on the defensive line, so it is easy to be loose out there,” Williams said. “We are all good friends, so it is easy to have a good time with those guys. In the locker room, it is just like a laugh factory. All of the guys on the defensive line have different personalities and it is great how we are just able to feed off each other. All of them are great. Those are my guys.”

Williams, a sociology major and computer applications minor, said he is still unsure about what the future holds for him.

“I really do not know what I am going to do yet,” Williams said. “It might be time for me to get a job, but having that extra year of eligibility, I may still try to play more football. I am still thinking about it and trying to figure it out.”