CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- For a lifelong tennis player, Brandon Williams has done a pretty good job picking up the concept of football. It just took him a while to get that opportunity.
Williams, who transferred to Cleveland High from Arkansas when his father, Barry Williams, became the marriage and family pastor at First Baptist Church, decided to go out for football for the first time this year. He played in a backup role -- playing some special teams while serving primarily on the scout and demonstration teams -- for the Blue Raiders throughout the regular season but had to fill in at wide receiver after junior Eric Goodwin broke his collarbone in practice before their first playoff game.
Now, months after being home-schooled in Arkansas and excelling on the tennis court, Williams is enjoying preparing with his teammates for the Class 5A state semifinal Friday against second-ranked Knoxville West.
"I'm excited," Williams said. "I'm just ready to play another game. I'm a senior, so after this I'm done, so I hope it's not my last."
He said that playing football was something he always wanted to try.
"There were no good schools to go to [where I lived]," he said. "When we moved here, I decided I wanted to give it a shot.
"When Eric got hurt and I got the chance to play, the coaches just told me to play my best; they knew it was a new experience and I'd be nervous. I'd never played football before and I'd never been tackled, so they just told me to keep my head up and try my best."
Williams had a couple of catches in the team's first two playoff wins but really emerged in the Raiders' 21-14 quarterfinal victory over East Hamilton with three catches for 54 yards. He had his big moment on the game-winning drive, hauling in a 36-yard completion that moved the ball to the Cleveland 42-yard line. The Raiders scored six plays later.
"It was like, 'I just made a big play," Williams said. "That catch definitely made the three months of practice worth it."
The Cleveland coaches decided to let him join the team back in the summer. They now wish he was an underclassman so they'd have the opportunity to continue to work with him because of the amount of improvement he's made.
"He's such a good teammate. He has no expectations and is just willing to help any way he could," head coach Ron Crawford said. "He's got a great attitude and always does stuff with a smile on his face. I always appreciate good team guys, and we've been super pleased and super impressed by how he handled that role and how he did in a pressure situation."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.