WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 10, 2014
AUBURN, ALABAMA -- The man they call Cadillac has been trying to take care of one unfinished stretch of road for years.
Every year, as the spring rolled around, would start thinking about finishing his degree, a mere seven hours of coursework away from completion. Every summer he'd realize he had too much on his plate.
In the end, his wife had to gently nudge her husband's wheels into motion to realize his dream. Now, a decade after he last carried the ball for Auburn, Williams is set to graduate with a degree in sociology during Saturday's winter commencement.
"The more I looked back on it, I thought it would be really cool to go back and get my degree for my child, for my family," Williams said. "And not only for them. For me. It's something I started, and I definitely want to finish."
He and his wife, Evan Christina, had their first son, Cole, 10 months ago, and with plans for a bigger family on the way, Williams' schedule was never going to be more open than it has been this year.
So she got in touch with Troy Smith, Williams' old academic advisor, and once Smith got involved, there was no turning back.
"I had been, I would say, slightly harassing him about doing it," Evan Christina said. "I know it gets harder when you start to build a bigger family, so in so many words, I was like, look, it's time."
Williams never finished his degree because his career intervened.
A brilliant, history-making back at Auburn -- Williams finished his four-year stint with school records for carries, touchdowns and second only to Bo Jackson in terms of rushing yards -- he did what most draft-eligible seniors do: skipped his spring semester to prepare for the NFL Draft.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers took Williams with the fifth pick of the 2005 draft, and despite a rash of injuries that cut short his career, Williams played seven seasons in the NFL, rushing for more than 4,000 yards.
Unlike a lot of former NFL stars, the hard part for Williams wasn't finding something to do after football.
He'd married Evan Christina, the girl he'd fallen in love with as a freshman at Auburn, on July 2, 2011, and he'd already acquired a business for his life outside of football.
Williams and his wife partnered with his former Buccaneers teammate Earnest Graham, another running back, to start Pro Player Insurance Group, an independent insurance company based in Fort Myers, Fla.
"It was almost like, OK, I've been around the game for so long, let me try my own business, let me try to do something else," Williams said.
The hard part was simply wondering what might have been.
Instead of retiring, Williams, stricken with injuries throughout his career, wasn't picked up by another NFL team after a 361-yard performance with the Rams in 2011. For the next two years, as July rolled around and he started hearing from former teammates like Ronnie Brown, Carlos Rogers and Jason Campbell, Williams found himself wishing he were in their shoes.
For the first time in his life, Williams didn't really want to watch a lot of football.
"It was hard for me, because I felt like I could still play the game of football," Williams said. "Once the first year goes by, and you don't get picked up, it's almost like that second year, you're like OK, I'm done, it's time to move on and start another career."
The funny thing is that the more Williams came to grips with the fact that his playing days were done, the more he wanted to get back into the game.
As successful as PPIG has been, Williams found himself flipping the channels to football more and more. The sport has been pulling him back.
"You're never going to see Carnell sitting up in an office every day," Evan Christina said. "We always knew that Carnell would have a more external role, and then eventually, he can get back into doing what he really loves."
That's where the college degree he's picking up this year comes back into play.
Williams wants to coach, preferably on the college or the high school level. He feels like he's got plenty he can teach kids coming up through the ranks. A lot of those jobs require a degree.
That's why Williams chose to major in sociology in the first place. Back when he was a freshman, if his NFL dreams didn't pan out, he knew he wanted to coach. Sociology could allow him to do that.
"As much as I want to take time off, I want to do something with football," Williams said. "I want to get back into the game, doing something, because that's what I'm passionate about, that's what I want to do."
The first step was breezing through a World Literature 2 class on Auburn's campus this summer. The second was a grind, trying to re-learn enough of Spanish 1 to complete Spanish 2 and finish off his sociology degree.
Now, on Saturday, he'll get to walk across the stage as the first person in his family to graduate from college.
"I just had a little boy, he's 10 months now," Williams said. "When he's growing up, middle school, high school, going to college, when I really talk to him about getting an education, getting your degree, doing good in school, it's something that he can really look and say, my daddy graduated from Auburn."
For Williams, the finish line has finally arrived.
(Article courtesy: Joel Erickson via AL.com)
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