The children greeted the Penn State football players with excitement at the start of their fitness event at one of the local branches of the YMCA of Centre County.
Trevor Williams and Alex Butterworth had taken the lead on a group project, planning for two-to-three weeks for the one-day affair focused on the importance of being active rather than watching television or playing video games. There were about 25-35 elementary-school students there, and they went through stretching and adapted football drills and played some dodgeball.
Between the stretching and drills, some kids ran around while others took a seat before getting back in line. One young girl hadn’t rejoined the group when the drills started, and Williams sat down next to her and started talking to her. Toward the end of the drills, Butterworth noticed a smile on her face as Williams stood next to her the whole time and taught her how to do them.
“She ended up having a blast, so it’s just the kind of person that he is,” said Butterworth, a punter at Penn State from 2010-13. “Even though he’s more reserved, he’s gonna be the guy to go find that kid in the corner of the room that’s maybe not having such a great day or doesn’t want to participate, and he’s gonna get them involved.”
The one-day event lasted just three or four hours, but it offered a glimpse at Williams’ potential future. The senior cornerback hopes to continue his career in the NFL — “that’s my plan A and plan B” — but he also has other goals. He said he’d like to coach or open his own recreation center.
“I do want to open up more than one,” Williams said. “But I would definitely start in Baltimore, just because that’s where I’m from and I know that area very well.”
Williams will return to his hometown Saturday when the Nittany Lions take on Maryland at 3:30 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium.
Williams said before the season he was in the process of reaching out and networking with people back home about opening a rec center. He’s talked to his high school coaches, who inspired him to help Baltimore’s youth one day, about the potential project, too.
He enjoys putting a smile on kids’ faces like he did during the fitness event at the YMCA.
Calvert Hall College High School coach Donald Davis said Williams is “a Baltimore city kid.”
Williams has lived in East Baltimore, and he has lived in West Baltimore. And the coach said his homes have been in middle class-to-lower middle class neighborhoods.
“They are certainly not well off or wealthy people,” Davis said. “He grew up in a single-mom home.”
Williams considers Davis a mentor who was hard on his players but often showed how much he cared about them.
Davis started recruiting Williams to play at Calvert Hall when he was in eighth grade.
The quiet kid blossomed into a leader and playmaker in high school. He stayed true to his personality as a leader, and Davis said when Williams spoke, his teammates listened. He finished with 99 catches and earned first-team all-state honors as a senior, but he also played defense and special teams. And Davis said he made big plays when his team needed them to get back in games.
Davis made an impression on Williams off the field, too.
“I can remember not having enough money to eat for lunch and he would take $5, $10 out of his pocket to make sure that we had lunch and things like that,” Williams said. “He would actually get mad if we didn’t say like, ‘Coach we’re hungry,’ but it was just a pride thing with us. We don’t want to ask you for anything.”
The coach hasn’t forgotten those who cared about him and set him up for success.
He’s simply trying to do the same for others.
“I always want those guys to know that No. 1 that there’s nothing I won’t do for ’em,” Davis said. “They’re very special kids. And everything that they do matters to me. So it’s important to me to make sure that they have and know that they have me as an outlet. And that’s whether the times are great or they’re having their worst possible day.”
Williams recalls his time at Calvert Hall fondly and credits Davis for helping him and his teammates succeed.
“He really broke his back for a lot of guys that came to Calvert Hall that were from like the inner-city that grew up in certain neighborhoods in Baltimore,” Williams said. “He put us on his back and he made sure that we didn’t goof off or we took advantage of the opportunity.”
Butterworth got to know the quiet kid from Baltimore when they had four or five classes together over two years.
They would study together, and Butterworth remembers Williams giving thoughtful answers to homework questions about human nature and society. He describes Williams as very intelligent on and off the field.
And he was impressed to see Williams earn time as a wide receiver during his freshman year in 2012, then move to cornerback for his sophomore season. It’s a transition that highlights his athletic ability, Butterworth said, as Williams made six starts and had two interceptions that season.
“It also speaks to his selfless attitude,” Butterworth said.
Last season, Williams continued to develop on the defensive side of the ball and picked up All-Big Ten honorable mention honors after hauling in two more interceptions. He felt he improved under defensive coordinator Bob Shoop and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, learning from and watching film with them.
He was also learning from mentoring his younger teammates going into the season.
“If I can give them advice,” Williams said, “it’s basically kind of giving advice to myself also.”
He said he was working to become a complete cornerback, but said he didn’t have any individual goals.
“The one goal I really do have for myself is just maximizing every opportunity that I have to play this game each and every day,” said Williams, who has started all seven games this season. “This is my senior year, this is my last year playing in a blue and white uniform here at Penn State so I’m leaving everything all out on the field and I’m not holding any punches back.”
Williams said he’s tried to be a sponge at Penn State — trying to soak up as much information from his coaches — so he can apply this experience to any future coaching opportunities.
He’s taken note of how Shoop talks about coaching each individual player differently because they each have different playing styles. And he would aim to keep the line of communication with his players open like Smith does.
Williams didn’t think anyone knew about his coaching aspirations before the season.
“I haven’t talked about it too much,” Williams said. “It’s in the back of my mind.”
But his high school coach and former Penn State teammate don’t hesitate in giving their endorsements for Williams’ future goals.
“Two hundred percent I can see it,” Butterworth said of Williams coaching, before adding, “Trevor’s really, really, really good at relating to people so he can get along with people very, very quickly and I noticed that about him no matter who was in our classes. He would always seem to just jell with everyone.”
Davis added that Williams is hungry to learn and great with people, especially kids.
“He’s got a very disarming personality,” Davis said.
That would translate to opening a rec center.
That’s also still an idea at this point, in the back of Williams’ mind, but he’s gotten experience through classes and working at Penn State’s athletic camps.
And he’s always wanted to give back to the underprivileged kids from his hometown.
“If I could impact those guys and show them the way, then that’s a great feeling the same way coach Davis did for my class coming into Calvert Hall,” Williams said. “I would want to be able to do that for the younger guys back home.”