Nov. 1, 2011
Tickets are available for $50 to the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame Dinner, Nov. 9 at 6:30 p.m. Please call Barb Dockweiler at 404-894-6124 to reserve seats.
By Jon Cooper
Rodney Williams wasn’t surprised when he picked up the phone and heard the voice of Georgia Tech Associate Director of Communications Mike Stamus on the other end. He always knew a call regarding the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame was coming.
He WAS surprised when Stamus said the call was for him!
“I thought he was calling my brother,” Williams said, with a laugh, “My older brother (Marlon) also played at Georgia Tech and was a great linebacker there. He started as a freshman on the national championship team. I expected him more than myself, so I was really surprised and honored at the same time.
“We’ve always had a little bit of a sibling rivalry,” he added. “I went to Southwest (DeKalb High School) right behind him. He went to Tech and I followed him to Tech. He had an illustrious career and I just tried to follow in his footsteps. It’s a little bit of a one-up on him.”
Williams will be part of the 2011 class to be inducted at the annual Hall of Fame Induction Dinner to be held on Nov. 9 at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. He’ll join a class that includes teammate Harvey Middleton, golfer Bryce Molder, baseball’s Mark Teixeira and tennis’ Benjamin Cassaigne.
While Marlon, a four-year starter (1990 through `93) who is 11th all-time in school history in sacks and tackles for loss, makes a compelling case for induction, Rodney certainly has a leg to stand when it comes to credentials.
Specifically, it’s his right leg, which may be the most powerful ever to punt at Georgia Tech.
He took over the punting job with five games remaining in the 1995 season and didn’t relinquish it until he graduated in 1998. In that time, he was prolific, earning Third-Team All-America honors in 1997 and First Team All-ACC and finalist status for the Mosi Tatupu Award, given to the College Football Special Teams Player of the Year, in ’97 and ’98.
Williams still ranks second in Georgia Tech career punting average (41.42), fourth in the number of punts (178) and yardage (7,373), and is tied for the sixth-longest punt in school history, with a booming 77-yarder against Virginia in 1996.
He still holds school single-game records for punts (12) and yardage (553 yards), both against Florida State in 1997 and the season punting average (45.64 yards per attempt), set in ’97.
“I’m surprised about that,” he said about the longevity of his records. “Because every year players get better and the offense and special teams become more efficient. I’m really surprised but I’m honored.”
Following his college career, Williams took his game to the next level, as the NFL’s St. Louis Rams drafted him on the seventh round, with the 252nd overall pick). He didn’t make the Rams, but, unwilling to give up his NFL dream, persevered, and after a year with the Rhein Fire of NFL Europe, returned to the U.S. and played five pro seasons with Washington, the New York Giants, Seattle and Kansas City. He set a Giants’ record in 2001, by booming a 90-yard punt on Monday Night Football against the Denver Broncos.
While individual honors were special, Williams’ fondest memories involved the rebuilding of the Georgia Tech program. He arrived in 1995, in the wake of a 1-10 season. After narrowing his choices to Tech and Florida State, he chose Tech, with the challenge of building a program from the ground up tipping the scales.
“[First-year head coach George] O’Leary asked me did I wanted to be part of a regimented program or did I want to be a part of starting to build a tradition and building something great at Tech?” he recalled. “There was not just my education but that I wanted to be part of something bigger than just a football program. It was building something new and something better.”
That desire to achieve more was typical of Rodney, who credited his parents for stressing a mindset that nothing was impossible if you believed strong enough.
“I think we (he and Marlon) were both raised that way,” he said. “Both my parents have always taught us that the only thing standing in the way of success is ourselves. Nine times out of 10 our main obstacle is our own mind. I’ve kind of adopted that attitude.”
After two seasons, during which Tech went a combined 11-11 (6-5 then 5-6) the Jackets broke through, going 7-5 and earning a bid to the 1997 Carquest Bowl, where they beat West Virginia, 35-30. It was the school’s first bowl appearance in six years. Tech has gone to a bowl game every year since.
Williams and Co., saved the best for last.
In his senior year, the Jackets went 10-2, finishing ninth in the AP and 11th in the USA Today/Coaches poll, they earned a share of the ACC Championship (coincidentally, with Florida State), beat No. 12 Georgia, 21-19, in Athens, then beat No. 17/18 Notre Dame, 35-28, in the Toyota Gator Bowl.
“Isn’t that crazy? I couldn’t even explain it to you,” he said, trying to explain the wave of emotion that swept the Georgia Tech campus. “It was something else. It takes something like this to remind you how fortunate and how blessed we were to be a part of something like that.”
Williams will be well represented at the dinner, as he’s expecting his parents, his wife, his 14-year-old daughter and eight-year-old son to attend, as well as several former teammates– some of whom also are teammates of Middleton.
He’s especially excited to share the day with his son.
“He really hasn’t seen much of my playing days,” Williams said. “He sees me on video games and he sees my plaques and everything but he doesn’t really grasp how much football has been a part of my life.
“Everything I’ve done has pretty much revolved around the fact that I started out my life going to Georgia Tech after I left home,” he added. “My first big step out into the world was to Georgia Tech. It was because I played ball and was a pretty good ball player. So it’s a pretty big deal to have him come in and be a part of that.”
It’s also a big deal and quite fitting, that Rodney will share his moment of induction with Marlon, who will present him at the dinner. It’s a moment Rodney thought for sure was for big brother when he picked up the phone, and is positive some day will be.