Honoring late father with jersey switch meant a lot to Williams

Honoring late father with jersey switch meant a lot to Williams


Honoring late father with jersey switch meant a lot to Williams


Prior to third-ranked Clemson’s game against Pittsburgh last Saturday, freshman wide receiver E.J. Williams approached head coach Dabo Swinney about possibly changing his jersey number for Military Appreciation Day at Death Valley.

Williams wanted to wear the No. 39 instead of his usual No. 6 as a tribute to his late father, Sgt. 1st Class Eddie Williams, Sr., who died at 39 years of age in 2010 after serving 18 years in the U.S. Army.

Swinney loved the idea and gave Williams permission to switch uniform numbers, and on Saturday, Williams shined while honoring his father in the No. 39 – recording his first career touchdown reception on a 5-yard pass from Trevor Lawrence to open the scoring in the first quarter of the Tigers’ eventual 52-17 victory over the Panthers.

“I wouldn’t say I was really emotional, but I’d say it was a great feeling,” Williams said on Monday when asked how emotional Saturday’s game was for him. “I had asked Coach Swinney could I wear the number, and he said yes with no hesitation. It was just a great feeling to be out there wearing the number to honor my father, and it’s just a great feeling to get my first touchdown on Military Appreciation (Day).”

Williams – who finished with three catches for 38 yards, including a tough 32-yard leaping grab over the middle of the field which helped set up another score – came into Saturday’s game wanting to make the most of his opportunities and put on his best performance with his father in mind.

“This game meant a lot to me,” he said. “For me, the biggest thing was just honor my dad and go out there and playing to the best of my ability, and when I get the chance, just show what I can do. And it’s a lot of support with the team. They were all proud of me getting my first touchdown. It was a lot of support from them and that was also great for me to see, just to know that they’ve always got my back through whatever.”

When Williams was growing up as a kid, his father had a big influence on him playing football as Williams, Sr., always wanted to throw the football around with his son in the backyard.

“He got me started playing basketball, too,” Williams said. “But yeah, he just always wanted me to have a football in my hand, play sports and just always be the best that I could be. He always told me that I could be a great football player, great basketball player, and use my athleticism in a good way, just don’t let it go to waste.”

Williams, a former four-star prospect who played his high school ball at Central High in Phenix City, Ala., has flashed his talent throughout this season while tallying 15 receptions for 181 yards, an average of 12.1 yards per catch, in his first nine games as a Tiger.

Williams, Sr., never got the chance to see his son suit up in pads on the football field but enjoyed watching him play flag football when they resided in Texas when Williams was younger. He was a proud father then, and he certainly would be now that Williams is succeeding at the highest level of college football.

“It just started off when I lived in Texas. He wanted to me to play pad football,” Williams said. “But in Texas, they’ve got a certain age group, the age limits for full pads is kind of higher. But I started off playing flag. He came to all my flag games. He wasn’t really a talkative guy, and he just came to all the games and showed a lot of support. You could just really tell he was happy to see me out there just having fun and just playing football. It’s a sport that he really loved. So, I was just happy to see him happy.”

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