Temple head coach Scott Stewart encourages players to visit his office if they ever need to bounce around ideas or just vent. Some conversations are lighthearted, some aren’t.
Some, actually, are unexpected.
Such was the case earlier this year, around the end of March, when someone tapped on his blue-painted door.
“Devan Williams walked in, and I said, ‘What?!’” Stewart recalled this week, using a tone that re-enacted his surprise and excitement. “That’s the first time I found out.”
What the sixth-year coach found out that day six months ago was that Williams, now a senior receiver for the Wildcats, was moving back to Temple after about a year living in Wichita Falls.
“Those are the good knocks,” Stewart concluded with a smile.
Good in a number of ways, really.
“The kids love him and everybody was fired up when he came home,” offensive coordinator Josh Sadler said. “It’s good for the Wildcats, for him and everyone involved. He’s back with family and that’s the most important thing. He got back to where he needed to be and it’s working out.”
Williams played significant varsity snaps as a sophomore for Temple’s defense in 2019 and was in line to have an increased role as a junior. Those plans were thrown for a loop, like many other aspects of life, last year when the pandemic first set in and took its hold. The circumstances, Williams said, forced his stepdad into a job search and an opening popped up some 250 miles north.
Already isolated amid the early quarantine days, Williams — who had been involved in Zoom and FaceTime spring football meetings with the Wildcats in anticipation of the 2020 season — said he had to break the news to coaches, teammates and friends mostly through text messages and phone calls.
Suddenly, the place that had quickly become home was just as swiftly in the rearview mirror.
“Before leaving, I just sat down and had to take it in. My mom said I just kind of mentally broke down because it was just tough,” Williams said Tuesday. “I was only here for about three years, finally getting to know everybody, finally getting my name out there, and I made a lot of friends that were more family than friends. Having to leave just like that was sad.”
It was the second major relocation in Williams’ life. Prior to his eighth-grade year, Williams moved from Seguin, where he spent Kindergarten through seventh grade, to Temple. He attended Lamar Middle School with current Wildcats Samari Howard, O’Tarian Peoples, Michael Heckstall and many more, and soon enough felt a strong connection to the town.
This most recent move felt different, but Williams, like he’s grown accustom to doing, made the best of his situation. So, it was off to a new town and a new school, Wichita Falls City View. Though, deep down he wasn’t where he truly wanted to be, silver linings were taking shape.
A cornerback/linebacker during his first stint with Temple, Williams was asked upon his arrival at City View to play both ways for the Class 3A Division II Mustangs. In retrospect, it set the stage for what he’s accomplishing now.
The Mustangs went 8-5 last year, losing to Gunter in the third round of the playoffs. In terms of football, it was a successful season. But, still, it wasn’t quite the same and some of the family hardships remained, he said.
“Throughout that year, it was OK. But, I never felt I was at home,” Williams said.
He said his mom had similar sentiments, recognized they needed to be closer to more family, and the process began toward Williams’ return.
The first coach he encountered when he stepped back into Temple’s athletic facility was defensive coordinator Dexter Knox. The second was Stewart, who helped Williams initiate the enrollment process, and then he bumped into good friend Howard in the parking lot.
“I was like, ‘I’m back, man,’” Williams remembered.
Not only was he back, Williams jumped right into action. He participated in spring practices in May, during which he spent the majority of the time playing receiver, showcasing the development and experience he gained at that position while at City View.
Out of fall camp, he earned his starting spot at outside receiver, and on Aug. 27 against Austin Westlake, he was on Bob McQueen Field at Wildcat Stadium in a regular-season game for the first time since November of 2019.
“It means the most,” Williams said. “Even though I didn’t grow up here, it feels like I’ve been here my whole life. It’s just the city, the football, the way they support the team and being in the uniform and the stadium. It’s just exciting. It’s a good feeling.”
Through four outings, the 6-foot-2, 185 pounder has continued to thrive for the Wildcats (2-2, 1-0 District 12-6A), who host unbeaten Harker Heights (4-0, 1-0) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium. Williams averages 32 yards per reception, owns a team-high four touchdown catches and has had back-to-back games of 100-plus yards receiving as Temple’s offense found its footing after a bit of a slow start out of the chute.
That’s in addition to still playing some defense.
“I wouldn’t want to cover him,” Stewart quipped. “I think everybody understands his ball-tracking, his reception-point ability, his foot speed. I think everybody can see that. I think people that have any foundational knowledge of the game of football can see that he’s talented. But, he is a physical kid. And that’s fun. I like that. He is a physical kid and I love that.
“He likes the contact. He runs down there on kickoff, and he begs me every week, ‘Coach, can I please play more corner? I want to play on defense.’ I love it. He’s such a fun kid, such a good kid. He just wants to help and do whatever he can do.”
That’s not just on the field, either. Williams, polite and articulate, is adamant about keeping his grades up and his attitude positive as he chases goals that include winning as many games as possible this season, college football and a future career as a radiologist.
The attention is mounting, too. For example, Williams last weekend did a game day visit to TCU.
From Seguin, to Temple, to Wichita Falls and back to Temple, Williams has stayed the course through it all. For it, opportunity now knocks on Williams’ door, and there’s no place he’d rather be to answer it.
“I just want to do anything I can do to help — play on special teams, on the defensive side of the ball. Even if I was on the sideline, I’m cheering my team,” said Williams, who also plays basketball.
“One thing Coach Stewart tells us is he’s never going to ask us to win. Winning is important but he wants the best out of us, for us to play and be the best as men and as a player. I feel like if we don’t give our all, we are letting other people down. We are letting our teammates down, we are letting the coaches down. If I know I can give 100 percent and I don’t, then I’m letting other people and myself down. So, I feel like I need to put forth the effort for others.”