Words by Randy Roper
Photos by Carl Vann
Invest in the process. Those four words sound cliché at best, but when you go through life knowing nothing is by chance and things happen for a reason, you know life seems to fall into place as it should.
Take my cousin Cedric Williams, for example: on one hand, the former South Carolina Gamecocks football star seems like he’s always had it figured out (on his way to newly being named as an assistant football coach at Georgia State University), but the truth is Cedric experienced all the bumps and bruises that life has to offer.
To get a true grasp of his journey, let’s start from the beginning…
Cedric (better known simply as “Ced”) grew up on James Island, South Carolina (a small town just outside of historic downtown Charleston). Always the biggest and most aggressive kid in the neighborhood, Ced turned to sports as an outlet. He found football, a perfect fit for his physical nature and forceful attitude.
“Football is a physical game and I’m a physical person,” Ced begins. “Football is a game where you line up, mano-a-mano, where you’re moving a person against their own will. I get joy out of it.”
From his first time stepping foot onto the gridiron, football became Ced’s passion. In high school, he was a standout defensive lineman at James Island High School, earning him football scholarship offers and interest from surrounding colleges and universities.
He grew up a Clemson University fan with aspirations of one day playing Division I football for the Tigers. However, after tearing his meniscus during his junior year of high school, those dreams where shattered. Clemson backed off their recruitment, which left Cedric with only one D-I scholarship offer: The University of South Carolina.
Ced joined the South Carolina Gamecocks in the fall of 1998 under Coach Brad Scott, and redshirted his freshman year. The Gamecocks finished a dismal 1998 season with a 1-10 record. Before Ced could play a snap for the coach that recruited him, Brad Scott was fired as the Gamecocks head football coach.
Scott’s replacement, the legendary Lou Holtz was taking over the South Carolina football program with many changes to be made. One change involved switching Ced from his defensive line position to the other side of the ball as an offensive lineman. “I was sick,” Ced remembers. “I wanted to transfer. I always thought of offensive linemen as slow, fat guys that blocked. I never had respect for the position.”
Despite Cedric’s reluctance to switch positions, he later embraced the change, excelled as a four-year starter for the Gamecocks and a first-team All-SEC selection in 2000. Cedric became a standout player under Coach Holtz, leading the Gamecocks to back-to-back Outback Bowls in 2000 and 2001 (at the time, the best two-year run in the school’s history).
“Lou Holtz helped guide and mentor me as a person, on and off the field,” Ced says of his former coach. “I still keep up with him and talk to him to this day. I’m forever thankful.”
Things were on the up-and-up in Ced’s playing career. Entering his senior season, he was projected as a Top 5 2003 NFL draft pick at his position.
Immediately after his senior season, Ced opted for surgery to repair a shoulder injury that had been lingering since his sophomore year. The shoulder surgery was a detrimental decision, causing concerns amongst all 32 NFL teams. Cedric went undrafted in the 2003 NFL Draft. An outcome he never saw coming, and led the lifelong football star into a state of depression.
“It was a tough time for me,” Ced recalls. “I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I stayed in my room for over two weeks straight, not dealing with anyone. Just kinda soul searching and trying to figure out what was next.”
After a couple weeks, he realized nothing was going to come from sulking in his room. He trained for a year, with hopes of landing on a NFL Europe roster, but he was never picked up. Still, with a love for sports fueling his commitment to football, Cedric decided coaching was the best route to continue living his passion.
He took a job as an activity therapist, designing athletic programs at a juvenile detention center in Columbia, but all while submitting his resume to college football programs, hoping he’d land a coaching job as a Graduate Assistant. After searching for two years, he was finally hired in the spring of 2006 by his alma mater and then coach Steve Spurrier.
“The goal was to be a successful coach, mentor and make a difference in young men’s lives,” Ced explained of his newfound purpose.
After three years as a grad assistant at USC, Ced’s coaching career was in motion. He landed his first coaching job as the offensive line coach at Tennessee State University, but after his first season, Cedric quickly learned a lesson of instability in the coaching profession. The program’s head coach resigned, and Cedric was let go, leaving the first-year coach without a job.
Left with no options, Ced pondered moving back home to Charleston before moving in with his then girlfriend of only four months, Richelle, a former Gamecock and Carolina Panthers cheerleader, who worked as the director/choreographer for the Carolina Panthers Cheerleaders, the TopCats in Charlotte, NC.
“I was nervous,” Richelle said. “But Cedric kind of had a way about him, where he made you feel comfortable about any situation. I didn’t want him to go back to Charleston. I was just like, ‘don’t go back home. Come stay in Charlotte.’ And I don’t know why I even suggested that. I don’t know if it was because I enjoyed his company so much. I don’t know if it was because I wanted to help him through this and help him find something. I guess subconsciously I wanted to see what I could do to help him get back on his feet.”
Once again, Cedric sent off his resume, looking for his next coaching opportunity. He was hired by Mississippi Valley State, a HBCU in the Mississippi Delta, a historically disenfranchised region and one of the poorest areas in the country.
“We finished 0-10, didn’t win a game,” Ced remembers, with a chuckle. “That was one of the worst times in my life as a coach. I was miserable there. I was ten hours away from my family, from my girl. I would still see her twice a month. I’d drive to Charlotte, or she’d drive to Mississippi. We made it work. We were at Shoney’s one day [in Mississippi], and she just started crying. She kept saying, ‘you don’t deserve this, you don’t deserve this.’ It’s a phase I kept remembering her say. But that motivated me more, that the woman I loved felt that way. I was more than grateful to have a job and do what I love, but she knew I wasn’t happy and she wasn’t happy.”
“Nothing against Mississippi Valley State or the little town Itta Bena,” Richelle began. “But I think for me, it was more so, how much longer will he have to do this? At that time I didn’t understand the dynamics of a coach. I didn’t understand how he could be ten hours away from me, from his family and be ok. Itta Bena didn’t have much. They had that Shoney’s and one other restaurant we used to go to. I walked in and the bathrooms weren’t all that clean, I was already frustrated and I lost it. I wanted to bring him back home with me.”
Fortunately, that one season at MVSU would be Coach Williams’ first and only. Soon after his first season in the Delta, Coach Williams received a call from Newberry College, a small Division II program, roughly 30 miles north of Columbia. They were looking for an offensive line coach. Cedric jumped at the chance to move and coach closer to home. His relationship with Richelle continued to grow, and the couple married in 2012.
He spent five seasons at Newberry College, helping the Wolves become a powerhouse program in the South Atlantic Conference.
In December 2015, Coach Williams received another call from his alma mater. The South Carolina Gamecocks (under new Coach Will Muschamp) hired Ced as a Strength and Conditioning Coach.
To be honest, when I first interviewed Cedric about his position on the Gamecocks coaching staff and spent a Saturday morning conducting a photo shoot at Williams Brice Stadium, I thought this was the making of a feel good story. I thought Ced would spend the next few seasons on the South Carolina Gamecocks sidelines… but I was wrong.
We talked about his ultimate goal of becoming an offensive line coach at a Division I college program or the NFL, and how much longer that would take him. Two more seasons? Maybe three? Who knows? The only thing Ced knew was that he’d trust the process and continue working hard until that opportunity came.
It only took him one more season.
This December, Ced accepted a new position as the Offensive Line Coach of the Georgia State Panthers, making him one of only five African-American offensive line coaches in Division I college football.
My cousin Cedric Williams has one of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever written.
Every time he fell, he got back up. Each mishap in his life was a building block for his next journey in life. As he grew older and wiser, he realized this whole time he was investing in the process. Each time he persevered. It led him exactly where he was supposed to be in his life. Every injury, every missed opportunity, every dark period in his life was part of the process. Even the tears Richelle cried at a dinner table in Mississippi were all part of Ced’s journey.
“My motto is ‘Invest In The Process,’” Ced says confidently. “It’s being in at six in the morning and sometimes not leaving until ten o’clock at night. I want to be successful so bad that I’m willing to work as hard as I possibly can, control what I can control. That’s all I can do. It’s a process for everything, man.”
(Happy Birthday, Big Ced).