Words By Randy Roper
My cousin and one of my best friends, Cedric Williams, is a Strength and Conditioning Coach with the University of South Carolina football program, and somewhere in my thoughts of relaunching Randyroper.com, creating content and telling stories, something has been telling me to start with the people closest to me, making “Ced” the perfect interview subject.
I’ve been having this vision for the longest, but even when I came up with the idea of doing a feature story about Cedric’s playing and coaching career, I didn’t expect that it would take me down the path that it did.
A few weeks ago I interviewed Ced over the phone. We talked about his playing days as an offensive linemen playing under Coach Lou Holtz, and his following years as a collegiate coach, which led him back to a coaching position at his alma mater. Last weekend, was an off-week for the Gamecocks, so I figured it would be a perfect chance for us to take some photos of Ced at the football stadium, and my boy photographer Carl Vann came out to capture the images.
We met up at 7:00 am on a Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium. It was just me, Ced, Carl and Carl’s cousin Kevin, who came out to give Carl a hand with his camera equipment. For a stadium that’s usually 80,000 people packed on a Saturday, for just the four of us to be there at that time was a surreal feeling.
I’m a huge Gamecocks football fan, so to stand on a field where so much college sports history has taken place, was an amazing experience for me. That’s when I learned my first lesson. During this journey of journalism and media I was going to spend a lot of time walking in the shoes of others. On one hand, Ced has been walking the field and hallways of Williams-Brice Stadium since he was an 18-year-old kid, just trying to earn a place on the playing field. Now, he’s a coach, who wakes up to coach a game he loves.
For myself, Carl and Kevin, that was our first time on the field. It was a combination of an awe and “are you sure this is ok?” moment. For that one day I was granted a glimpse into Ced’s world. I told him not to take what he does for granted, which was also a reminder for me not to take for granted what I was experiencing that very moment. I know plenty of people that wake up to work a job they hate, but as the saying goes, “Choose a job that you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I learned that is a true statement. I saw it in Ced.
From the field, we made our way to the weight room, where Ced spends most of his time training players. And after a couple more conversations about coaching, Gamecocks football and Carl taking a few more shots in the weight room, our morning at Williams-Brice Stadium was over. For Carl and Kevin, their work was done (can’t wait to see those pictures, Carl), but for Ced and I, the next stop was at Newberry College.
Newberry is a small Division-II school about 30 miles north of Columbia, where Ced spent his previous five years coaching Newberry football, before taking a position with the Gamecocks this season.
Going into the game, the Newberry Wolves were 5-1 and leading their division. At the game, we sat with Ced’s former Gamecocks teammates, Corey Jenkins and Brian Scott, both standout athletes during their playing days, and now retired players and coaches. That’s when I began picking up on the conversations these former players would have about the X’s and O’s of the game and what separates at Division-II player from an SEC player. And even years past their playing days, the respect and comradery between the guys was a beautiful thing to see.
That’s when I started learning my next lesson. Football can be looked at as just a game, but for the players, coaches and staffs that come together for the common goal of winning games, that’s a bond that lasts a lifetime. Newberry won their game 34-19 and improved to 6-1.
After the game I accompanied Ced to the field where he was met by players and coaches with admiration. Everyone from the head coach to the equipment manager was happy to see Coach Williams. That aforementioned lifetime bond was more evident than ever.
I come from a world of media and music and I can tell you behind the scenes those industries are all smoke and mirrors. But seeing the behind the scenes of the football field, I’m sure not everything is as peachy as it seemed, but for that 6-1 team, there was enough love going around to put a smile on everyone’s face. Maybe not for a lifetime, but at least for that day, the world felt like a better place.
We hung out after the game, eating pizza, taking shots and talking with folks in the coaches lounge. I even caught up with my old college buddy Bennett Swygert. Ced’s old teammate at South Carolina, who’s the current Quarterbacks Coach and Offensive Coordinator at Newberry. (Chance The Rapper, Bennett). It was a great night.
I learned a lot hanging with my big cuz Cedric Williams. I’ve been watching him and learning from him since we were kids growing up on the dirt roads of James Island, South Carolina. I’m proud of him and I’m fortunate to walk this journey called life with him by my side.
I have a whole article about his playing days and coaching career to write. For now, the most important thing I learned hanging around Ced at Williams-Brice stadium and Newberry College is something I already knew and it’s called “love.”
There was a Newberry fan sitting beside us in the stadium who began conversing with Ced. He asked his name.
Ced: “I’m Cedric Williams.”
Newberry fan: “I’ve heard that name before.”
Ced: “I was the OL coach here for the last five seasons.”
Newberry fan: “That’s it!” (Snapping his fingers as he realized why Ced’s name rang a bell). “Well, my name is John, not that it means anything, but…”
Ced: “Of course, it means something. That’s who you are. You mean something.”
As simple as that exchange was, I’ll never forget that. That was the theme for the whole day. It didn’t matter if it was a random fan named John or a guy named Kevin that came with the photographer to take his pictures, Coach Cedric Williams treated everyone with the utmost respect.
You’d be surprised how much you can learn when you walk in someone else’s shoes. Like I said in the beginning, I didn’t realize that before I got up at 6 am on a Saturday to take pictures on a football stadium.
Trust the journey and respect the process. You never know what you’re going to learn.
I learned that walking with a football coach.