Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk: Delvin Williams

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The 1970s became known as a period of rebellion and rejection in America’s history. As a result of events like the Vietnam War, people felt the nation was left divided and that their country was in turmoil.
Protests over the war disturbed college campuses across the country, including those throughout Kansas. In Lawrence, students discovered a voice they had within themselves that had not been found before.  
While many students were seen at rallies, making their opinions heard and speaking up against the government’s decisions, it was Delvin Williams who was found in his dorm finding peace within himself.  
As an inner-city kid growing up in Houston, Williams had never been outside of Texas, so adjusting to a predominately white culture in Kansas became a challenge for him.  Yet, he recognized the difficult circumstances that lay ahead and decided to turn his situation into a learning opportunity that eventually became a life lesson.
“At one point, I learned the difference between growth and change – a lot of people resist change.  The only thing that is consistent is change, so I stuck with it,” Williams said.
With the help of people like John Novotny to mentor him, Williams adapted to his new lifestyle seamlessly.  Novotny, who was the Kansas Athletics business manager at the time, acted as a father figure to Williams. 
The two were first introduced when Williams came to Lawrence for his recruiting trip in January 1970, when Novotny helped Williams discover the little kid inside of himself. It was a typical, brutal Kansas winter, and the fresh white snow on the ground gave Novotny an idea.
After finding a cafeteria tray on campus, he took Williams down Jayhawk Boulevard and had him sled down the hill behind Snow Hall.  This moment allowed Williams to feel like a kid again, as it turned into an experience he will never forget.
“It was something I had never done, so that was a fun experience because it was a first-time thing,” Williams said with a smile. 
Novotny always did the little things for Williams that he appreciated most.  Things like giving Williams his first birthday party and calling him on a regular basis, just to check up on him to see how the football player was doing.  Looking back, Williams believes that Novotny is the reason why he finished school.
“It was tough and hard, but he pushed me to not let it (academics and school) be an issue.  I think more than anything, he definitely cared about me,” Williams said of his mentor.
When Williams first arrived at KU, coaches had high expectations for him to excel on the football field because of his high school All-American status.  However, due to his prep grades and performance in the classroom, he was declared academically ineligible, resulting in him having to watch the sport he loved from the sidelines. 
His choices at that point became simple: go home and attend junior college or stay in Lawrence and try to make things work out.
“I’m glad that I did (stay at Kansas) because KU became an incubator for me,” Williams reflected. 
With the help of Novotny, working tirelessly to get his grades up and become academically eligible, Williams found himself back on the gridiron a year later.  Donning the Crimson and Blue is something he prides himself in because of the amount of hard work it took for him to get back on the field, where he excelled.
Though he only wore a Jayhawks uniform for three years, Williams still ranks No. 19 on Kansas’s all-time rushing list with 1,597 career yards and still holds the record for the fastest 40-yard dash at 4.1 seconds.  Although his injury-plagued collegiate career limited his playing time, his talent was good enough to be recognized by National Football League (NFL) scouts.
In 1974, Williams was taken by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the NFL Draft.  During his 10-year professional career, he played amongst the world’s best football players and earned two trips to the Pro Bowl (1976, 1978) and was a First-Team All-Pro (1978) selection. 
Yet, his success on the field is not what Williams wants to be remembered for.  It is the work he has done outside football, reminding people of what can happen to individuals who choose to play contact sports, like football and involve themselves with drugs.
“I’ve been in court almost 30 years fighting them (the NFL and the National Football League Players Association [NFLPA]) for my disabilities and workers’ comp stuff.  Knowing what I know and have experienced after football, I wouldn’t do it because of the legal stuff and injuries,” Williams said.
To this date, Williams has had 23 different surgeries due to the amount of injuries he acquired because of football.  His goal to inform and educate the public on how playing football impacts his daily life is the reason why he is currently writing a book about what life is like during and after football. 
In 1982, Williams showed the world what he is most passionate about, when he started his non-profited organization Pros for Kids.  With the belief to use professional athletes as positive, encouraging role models, Williams began the organization as a way to influence kids to stay away from drugs and substance abuse.
Pros for Kids eventually became one of the most well-known anti-drug organizations in America.  It gained so much popularity that Williams received an invitation in the mail to the White House for a dinner with former President Reagan and his wife.  At the end of the night, Williams found himself in a crowd of people, trying to say goodbye to the President. 
He decided it was time for him to leave, so standing about 10 feet away from the former First Lady, Williams waved to her thanking her for the invitation.  As he said goodnight to her, she did something Williams describes as magical.
“She reached through the crowd, grabbed my hand and pulled me to the President,” Williams recalled.  “Me, of all the people there, she chose me. I still have that memory today, and it sends chills down my back every time I tell that story.”
{Delvin says the picture of him, the President and the First Lady was taken at that moment}
The relationship between Williams and the former First Lady continued to grow and turned into a real friendship.  She came to speak at events that Pros for Kids hosted and wrote Williams multiple personal letters, explaining how proud she was of the progress he was making with the organization.
But the acknowledgements did not stop with just the White House.  In 1987, Williams was featured in “Better Health & Living” magazine as they named him one of “10 Americans Who’ve Made a Difference” in the country.
“You go into that game mentally prepared, knowing what it’s going to take to win and knowing what it’s going to take to beat you.  And the message to kids is that they can’t go unprepared.  They need to know drugs can beat them,” Williams said in the August edition of the magazine. 
Years later, Williams had his list of accomplishments capped off in 2008 when he opened a letter from the African American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame, stating that his nomination for induction was selected.
According to the committee, in order to receive this honor, one must have made an impact in sports, displayed a feeling of unity amongst the community and have been an influential figure to the youth, which is why Williams was nominated.
“With diligence and tenacity in your endeavors, you have made an impression on the world.  Our youth reveres you and your influence upon them for the betterment of their personal lives is so important.  You are a true hero in the sports community and other communities at large,” the letter said about Williams.
The impact Williams has had on so many people’s lives goes beyond his list of achievements.  Those acknowledgements and awards only occurred because of the type of person Williams is – someone who just wants to help and give hope to others. 
“Life may not be the way that you dreamed it would be, but you have to be receptive of something good happening,” Williams said.
When he speaks in front of crowds, Williams’ honesty is the first thing people see and hear.  He stresses how he can’t make any guarantees that if kids work hard and do what they are supposed to do, then they will get what they want. 
What Delvin Williams does guarantee though, is if people work hard, never give up and keep their eyes on the task at hand, something good will happen.
Once A Jayhawk, Always A Jayhawk.