From the Bayou to the Big Green: Dynamic QB Shatters Records, Electrifies Dartmouth Football

Sunday, October 25, 2015
Hanover — Dalyn Williams’ first Dartmouth College football news conference occurred in a musty auxiliary locker room at Cornell in 2012. The freshman had just started his first college game, guiding a mediocre Ivy League team to victory and completing 14-of-20 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns and running eight times for 96 yards and a touchdown.

It was a mesmerizing performance for those who had become accustomed to watching the Big Green deploy inconsistent drop-back passers. Williams was known to be both hugely confident and outspoken. What would he say after such a debut?

Not much, it turned out. The Texan tersely answered a few questions and was in such a hurry to leave that his cleats skidded on the cement floor as he galloped for the exit. Williams’ game was impressive, but his comfort level in the spotlight wasn’t high.

Three years later and now a senior, the 5-foot-11, 215-pound signal caller is utterly at ease in both the pocket and before the press. At Central Connecticut State on Oct. 17, he literally jogged for a 20-yard gain, settling in behind blockers and reading the field so well he looked like a teenager showing off against his little brothers in the backyard.

When answering questions, Williams flashes not only his fabulous smile but a cheeky wit. He’ll correct inaccuracies and isn’t hesitant to proclaim his rock-solid belief in himself and his team.

“As far as talent goes, I feel I’m the best there is,” Williams said when asked how he compares with other college quarterbacks. “I have all the tools and intangibles to play at the next level. It’s just that I’m at a smaller school and you see other guys playing on TV all the time and you assume they’re better.”

Those who do get a chance to see him walk away impressed.

“He’s absolutely amazing,” Pennsylvania coach Ray Priore said. “He can beat you many different ways, and one of the best things he does is extend plays.”

Dartmouth hasn’t produced an NFL player since 2004 and only a few during the past 40 years, but 22 NFL scouts have been to watch Big Green practices this year. A handful of pro competitors emerge from the Ivy League each year, but most compete on the margins.

That doesn’t shake Williams’ confidence. He plans to take off the upcoming winter and spring terms to train for the NFL and return later to complete his economics degree. His game and stature are similar to that of Seattle Seahawks star Russell Wilson, whose late father was a standout Dartmouth receiver and a late cut by the San Diego Chargers.

“It’s very tough and the percentage of people who make it is very low but that makes it all the better to accomplish,” Williams said of his NFL chances. “You can’t tell me I can’t do something. Everyone’s doubting me as a 5-foot-11 or 6-foot quarterback, listing every reason for me to fail. I just need a chance.”

Williams and his undefeated team have a big opportunity this week. Dartmouth, 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Ivy League play, visits arch-rival and undefeated Harvard on Friday night in Boston for the league lead. The game will be nationally televised on the NBC Sports Network channel as the Big Green seeks to snap an 11-game losing streak against the two-time defending Ivy champs.

Dartmouth has beaten Harvard only twice since capturing its last Ancient Eight crown in 1996, but its players, coaches and backers all believe this is the year. It would be quite a story. Then again, the young man who leads them has quite a story of his own.

Dalyn Adonis Williams was born on June 23, 1994, in Houma, La. The boy’s middle name is that of a Greek god, often associated with handsome youth, but he weighed only 41/2 pounds and was born seven weeks premature to his 21-year-old mother, Iris Washington, a student at Northeast Louisiana University. She and the boy’s father, 6-foot-4 NLU basketball player Charles Williams, had not planned on starting a family, but their son’s arrival wasn’t going to halt her education.

Iris, working toward a clinical laboratory science degree, sometimes brought her toddler to class. She’d sit high in the sloping auditorium in case Dalyn acted up, but he rarely did.

“He’d color in his book and the professor would say something and he’d look up like he understood,” she recalled with a chuckle. “I think a lot of his success has to do with him being in a learning environment so early.”

After marrying, Iris and Charles raised Dalyn primarily in Baldwin, a town of roughly 2,500 about an hour’s drive south of Lafayette, in Cajun country. Baldwin is Iris’ hometown, adjacent to Charles’ hometown of Jeanerette and not far from the Gulf of Mexico, where Charles worked on oil rigs. The young parents moved into Iris’ childhood home at the intersection of Collins and Main streets. It’s a long touchdown pass from the winding Bayou Teche, a 125-mile-long river that snakes through south-central Louisiana on what was the Mississippi River’s long-ago path.

Williams’ parents were not the type to let their boy roam. So his family’s yard and a park across the street became focal points of neighborhood play. With a front yard that stretched nearly half an acre, there was plenty of room for roughhousing, football and baseball.

If you needed a drink, you grabbed the garden hose. Sometimes, Dalyn could be persuaded to swipe a few ice pops from the freezer, which provided short-lived relief from afternoons so humid it felt as if Baldwin were under water. There were no white children in these games. Baldwin was and is predominantly African-American, and Williams recalls only once having a white student in his homeroom class.

The football was tackle and the yard’s rough cement patch was in bounds, so skin was sacrificed and scars were formed, but it was rare anybody quit. The bigger kids showed little mercy toward their younger peers. If you were tough enough to take it, you got better in a hurry. If not, you found other ways to pass the time.

“You cry, you go home,” recalled Charles Williams, noting that two of the participants in those games went on to play football at Louisiana State and the University of Houston. “That’s how you learn, playing with guys older than you.”

As he got older, Dalyn Williams made himself the “all-time quarterback,” pretending he was playing for LSU and chucking passes for whichever side was on offense. He’ll tell you that’s where he developed his quick release and accuracy, but it’s hard not also to imagine that his eye-popping elusiveness wasn’t honed in games with as many as 25 kids racing in all directions.

Williams said when he visits Baldwin now, he can’t find many of his former friends.

“Some are in trouble and some are in jail,” he said.

Jarion Brown, a Dartmouth freshman quarterback and a Baldwin native, said many who manage to graduate from high school have few choices between unemployment and toiling in fast-food restaurants. Some escape by joining the military.

“I’m glad I got out,” said Brown, whose best friend is serving life in prison for murder and whose top high school receiver had his career ended when he was shot in the shoulder. “There’s a lot of people up to no good.”

Williams’ parents noticed. After Dalyn finished fifth grade, they moved him and Charles Williams III, his younger brother by five years known as Tre, to Texas, eventually settling in the Dallas suburb of Corinth, an overwhelmingly white city of about 20,000.

When Williams went out for seventh-grade football, he was directed toward the linemen, perhaps because he was heavyset. When a coach needed someone to throw a pass, however, Williams grabbed a ball and hurled it more than 50 yards. A position switch occurred, and coaches from Lake Dallas High, making one of their regular scouting trips to middle school practice, quickly noticed.

“He was pudgy but he had a smooth release and was probably the toughest kid,” said longtime Lake Dallas quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Jeremy Males. “You watched him hammer people on defense and knew he was going to be tough enough to lead the team.”

Williams started on the Lake Dallas varsity baseball team as a freshman and was also good at basketball. He was the freshman football team’s quarterback, but the varsity job was held by nationally ranked recruit James Franklin, two years older and a player who would start at Missouri and is now a member of the Canadian Football League’s Edmonton Eskimos.

Williams wanted playing time, so he moved to receiver as a sophomore and was honored as the district’s Rookie of the Year. Lake Dallas had roughly 1,200 students, but some of its opponents had enrollments twice as large. The region is a recruiting hotbed, and Lake Dallas that year had four big-school, Division I college recruits on its roster.

Williams said he was ranked 20th among Texas high school receivers and was in the top 100 nationally. Recruiting letters began arriving, but he wouldn’t be dissuaded from a return to quarterback once Franklin graduated. A rough junior season was followed by a senior campaign during which Williams threw for nearly 4,000 yards and 37 touchdowns and ran for close to 1,000 yards and 11 more scores. He had done well during a Dallas-area version of the prestigious Elite 11 Camp and in AP high school classes. So why was there only minor college interest?

It came down to height and stubborn will. Williams, who’s listed — generously — as 6 feet, wasn’t likely to grow, and he wasn’t willing to play receiver or defensive back in college. Scouts shrugged and moved on.

“You tell them recruiters you don’t want to play receiver and you’re canceling yourself out of a scholarship,” Charles Williams told his son. “But if that’s what you truly want to do, make a decision and stand by it.”

Williams was a first-team All-Texas honoree as a senior. Army, Air Force and Navy were receptive to Williams playing quarterback, but a drastic change in lifestyle would have been required at those institutions, and their teams don’t often throw the ball.

Dartmouth won out in large part because of the persistent recruiting by then-Big Green receivers coach Jarrail Jackson, who kept telling Williams he could be the Ivy League Player of the Year if he’d come north. Jackson said he was sold after seeing Williams scold a teammate, who would later play in the Pac-12 Conference, after he ran the wrong pass route, resulting in an incompletion.

“No. 10 shared what was on his mind right then and there,” Jackson recalled with a laugh. “He’s a winner.”

An official visit to Dartmouth was arranged, with Charles along for the ride. The father was not particularly impressed and didn’t think his son would be either.

“I didn’t think he was going there because it was going to be too much culture shock,” Charles Williams said. “When you go to a college town you expect a city and (Hanover is) a little country town like Baldwin. But he surprised me. He said ‘This isn’t as bad as I thought.’ ”

Williams wasn’t so sanguine during his first months at Dartmouth. The quarterback was incensed he wasn’t starting. Junior Alex Park, a transfer from New Hampshire, was first string because he’d been in the program for more than a year and had a firmer grasp of the offense.

Park was no slouch as an athlete, but Williams was clearly superior. Still, it takes more than physical skill to win a job in college football. The newcomer needed to learn everything from the offense’s terminology to how to align his pass protection to when best to call an audible. A quarterback has fewer than four seconds to drop back, read his options and deliver the ball to an exact location with the right timing, velocity and trajectory.

When running, Williams took chances by sweeping wide in one direction, then zig-zagging back the other way. It’s a high-risk, high-reward tactic — and one that offensive coordinator Keith Clark wanted no part of.

“You can get away with it in high school but if you try it at this level, you get killed,” Clark said.

Turnovers weren’t a problem — Williams has had only eight passes intercepted in more than 600 attempts — but he had to learn to scramble a bit less and take fewer sacks. His mobility might gain five yards on one play, but trying to use it at the wrong time could lead to lost yardage in a crucial situation.

“Quarterbacks want to sit back there until the play is wide open and now he knows it’s usually not going to be wide open,” Clark said. “Experience is the greatest teacher in this game.”

That’s not to say Williams isn’t still capable of evasive magic. He can use tiny, choppy steps to buy time until a hole opens, and on the next play he may wait until the last possible moment before sidestepping a charging defensive end. Then there’s the move where he takes a lateral step to his left before circling back and away and sprinting into the right flat.

Dartmouth, winless in 2008, has steadily improved in the seven seasons since, as the college and the Friends of Football booster group have poured money into better facilities, an increased recruiting budget and coaches’ salaries. As the talent around Williams has improved, he’s had to scramble less, and at times this season, he’s been able to spend what seems like minutes waiting for plays to develop and receivers to get open.

“We’ve protected him better so he can go from (receiving options) one through five,” said Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens. “Before, it was look at one and then run for your life.”

More dramatic than Williams’ physical development has been his emotional maturity as a leader. The kid who showed up three years ago was at times petulant, overconfident and aloof. He felt abandoned by Jackson, the man who persuaded him to come to Dartmouth, and was only beginning to build a similarly close relationship with Jackson’s successor, Louisiana native and former NFL receiver Cortez Hankton.

During a game at Holy Cross his freshman year, Williams expressed his displeasure over not being in the action to a fan in the front row, then got into the contest, only to sit out the final, winning drive. During that march, while his standing teammates crowded the sideline, a glowering Williams remained seated on the bench.

It wasn’t uncommon after practices to find Williams and Teevens paired up, the frowning player talking and gesturing, the coach listening intently and nodding occasionally. Teevens, a 1979 Dartmouth graduate, was a quarterback and the Ivy League Player of the Year as a senior, but he started out as one of 10 signal-callers on the freshman team. He knows about waiting one’s turn.

“People sometimes talked about how Dalyn was not a team guy and how he was selfish,” Teevens said. “But he wanted to win so bad and he just didn’t know how to control and channel it. The competitive level hasn’t changed but he has a better way to present it.”

Two years ago, during a loss at Harvard that likely cost Dartmouth at least a share of the Ivy title, Williams engaged in what Clark called a “fit on the sidelines,” but such displays have mostly stopped.

“The best part of Dalyn is his competitive nature,” Clark said. “He wants everyone to play up to his level and it elevates other people. But every competitor is going to have his moments of frustration.”

Said Williams: “If I could go back, I definitely wouldn’t have as much of that attitude or have that persona, but you can’t change the past.”

Is Williams cocky or confident? Clark would say his quarterback started as the former and has turned into the latter. Hankton, now at Vanderbilt, said his friend’s belief never veered into conceit. Williams will tell you he is the most competitive person you’ll ever meet, whether it’s in football, video games or academics.

“My family is ultra-competitive, and I don’t understand it if you’re not,” he said. “My dad would always tell me life’s a competition, that if you’re trying to get a wife or a job, you’re competing against other people. You can’t escape competition and trying to escape it is trying to escape reality.”

Charles Williams looms large in his son’s life, and not just because of his height. A manager for the CVS drugstore chain, he specializes in straightening out underperforming stores in the Dallas area. Listening to his account of raising Dalyn, it’s clear why he’s a good fit for that role.

From a young age, Dalyn Williams was assigned chores and every one of them, along with his homework, was to be completed before he could go outside after school or on weekends. Jumping the gun would result in Charles striding outside to yank his boy back into the house. A 7-year-old Dalyn could make himself cereal and sandwiches and knew how to iron, dust, mop and do the dishes and mow the grass. All while watching his 2-year-old brother.

“There was absolutely no popping off,” Dalyn Williams said. “I respected my father and knew whenever I was out of line that he would correct me, so I was careful to hold my words in. If I spoke back to my dad, he would give me a look and then it became a whupping.”

Williams said he knew his father loved him but rarely heard it from him directly while growing up. That’s changed in recent years. Still, Charles Williams is a formidable presence, not given to small talk or foolishness. Taught by his mother to regularly write down his goals, he had his boys do the same thing with academics and athletics.

Dalyn Williams said he was slowly given more freedom through high school. He could question his father if he was prepared to defend his position. Friends came over, although Williams himself wasn’t allowed to spend the night outside the house. He came to appreciate the structure he’d been given. “I understand why my dad would come home and complain about the dishes in the sink,” Dalyn Williams said. “He hated the idea that he’d worked so hard to get us out of where we were and didn’t like us just chilling.”

What’s life like for Williams at Dartmouth? Low key. The 21-year-old lives in a three-bedroom dormitory suite with teammates Zach Slafsky, A.J. Zuttah and Folarin Orimolade, sharing a bedroom with Orimolade. Williams loves video games and plays them extensively. But school and football don’t leave him much spare time.

All four men share a burning focus on football, which suits Williams just fine. He’s a good student and has excelled in high-level corporate internships during recent summers, but the sport is what matters most to him and his small circle of friends.

Everyone else is viewed as “either a teammate or an associate,” including women.

Williams doesn’t imbibe and rarely ventures into Dartmouth’s nightlife, which is big on alcohol-heavy parties at fraternities and sororities.

“Instead of talking to a girl who’s drunk in a basement, I’d rather talk to her in class or somewhere that’s respectful. Some people have to drink to talk to girls, but I can talk to anyone I want at any time.”

That measured gregariousness comes from his mother. While Males, Dalyn’s high school coach, said he’s never seen Charles Williams smile, he and everyone else associated with the Lake Dallas program know Iris Washington as a beam of sunshine. When her son would break loose on long runs, Washington would run on a parallel path through the bleachers, cheering and shouting ‘Don’t touch my baby!’ ”

A former phlebotomist and now a health care manager with a second college degree, Washington supports her husband’s strict guidelines on child rearing, but is also sometimes the buffer between him and their children.

“There would be times I would have to nurture my boys on the side because I would never want to go against their dad,” Washington said. “But I’d tell them, ‘It’s OK; Daddy means well.’ ”

When Washington came to Hanover for the homecoming game against Yale earlier this month, she cleaned her son’s dorm suite top to bottom with bleach and cooked him and his roommates a meal to remember. There were chili beans, red beans, sausages and shrimp over rice. Okra and pork chops smothered in gravy. Baked chicken. She also tossed a jug of orange juice into the refrigerator in hopes that the boys would drink it to ward off colds.

Washington reveled in Dartmouth’s rout of Yale and the fuss fans made over her boy after the game, on campus and in town. “It was exciting, because people were asking to take selfies with him,” she said. “It was like ‘Wow, he’s famous.’ It’s fun to see how people are happy and into the idea of Dalyn and his success.”

As goes Williams, so goes Dartmouth. With the Big Green lacking depth in the quarterback position, Dartmouth fans may be saying prayers for No. 10’s continued good health, and it’s safe to say nerves are jangled on the sidelines and in the stands whenever he’s tackled.

Williams is so athletic and so experienced, however, that he’s rarely hit hard. The line in front of him, a question mark coming into the season, is having a strong campaign and when Williams does run, he no longer recklessly tries to win collisions. Prudence, not hubris, prevails, and he slides to the turf or skips out of bounds.

Dartmouth is in a national top 25 ranking for the first time since its 1996 squad went undefeated. Williams was named one organization’s national player of the week at the NCAA Football Championship Series level after completing 92 percent of his passes at Pennsylvania. He threw for 336 yards and four touchdowns that day and ran for two more scores.

A week later, against Yale, Williams threw for a school-record 435 yards and four more touchdowns. He also broke the Dartmouth record for career passing yardage, set by former NFL quarterback Jay Fiedler. The Big Green sold out Memorial Field and piled up 592 yards of offense, the first time for either accomplishment in at least 40 years.

Williams also broke his own single-game record with 453 total yards that day and became the first Dartmouth player to throw for 300 or more yards in three consecutive games.

One can start to take his excellence for granted, which is why Clark spoke up when the coaching staff viewed video of a rout of Sacred Heart the day after the Sept. 26 game. Williams graded out at near-perfect levels, at one point calling an audible that resulted in a touchdown, something he’s done half a dozen times this fall.

“I said, ‘Men, enjoy this because you don’t know when you’re going to get another one like him,’ ” Clark recalled. “Someone who’s that dynamic and who’s going to see the field that well. I’m not saying he’s a once-in-a-lifetime player, but he’s doing some really unbelievable things out there.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at or 603-727-3227.

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