Candid Notre Dame RB Dexter Williams driven by his past

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — A single word is written in black ink on the tape wrapped around Dexter Williams’ left wrist, a reminder to the junior running back to, well …

Believe.

Roughly an hour after the conclusion of his second Blue-Gold Game in South Bend, Williams sits before a flock of reporters and explains the simple inscription. You have to believe in yourself before you can have success, he says. You have to believe in your coaches and teammates.

And they must believe in you.

Notre Dame’s 5-foot-11, 202-pound junior is working on the latter. On Aug. 19, he and four teammates were arrested after being pulled over on U.S. 31 in Fulton County. Williams was charged with a single misdemeanor count of possession of marijuana, as were three of his teammates. Senior safety Max Redfield, who was also found in possession of a handgun, was eventually dismissed from the team.

There have been exactly 246 days since the incident, and Williams has revisited the arrest on every one of them.

Why forget the past when it can influence your future?

“I think about it every day, because that could have been my last chance to be at Notre Dame or just play football, period,” Williams said. “It’s on my mind daily. I continue to place myself around positive people and stay positive.”

Williams continues, too, to mend whatever trust was fractured on the side of a road in Fulton County.

“I had to grow up a lot,” he said on Saturday, in his first public comment since the arrest. “I had to gain the respect of my coaches and teammates and also begin to work even harder. I know I let a lot of people down. I let my family down, my coaches down, my teammates down.

“I just wanted to let them know that it won’t happen again and that I’ll make the right decisions from here on out.”

Williams’ life in the last eight months have been a series of correct decisions. The running back from Winter Garden, Fla., is motivated by his mother, Cheryl Williams, who continues to battle a rare autoimmune neuromuscular disorder called myasthenia gravis, which attacks a person’s voluntary muscles. He is motivated by the memory of his friend and former Irish teammate, Greg Bryant, who was shot and killed on May 7, 2016.

He is motivated by the aforementioned coaches and teammates, who hold a significant stake in his renewed success.

“I just constantly tell them to stay on me about everything,” Williams said. “Just don’t let me take anything for granted. I love how they’re taking me back in and continuing to motivate me and push me.”

Because he was punished, and continually pushed, Williams is beginning to prosper. Notre Dame’s most explosive running back did just that on Saturday, taking a handoff around the left edge and out-running safety Ashton White 38 yards untouched into the end zone. He added a 41-yard run in the third quarter and finished with a team-high 96 rushing yards, 10.7 yards per carry and a touchdown.

In a 27-14 Blue-Gold victory for his Gold squad, Williams’ belief was repeatedly rewarded.

“It felt great — having a big game, being on the field with my brothers, having my mom here and having my coaches behind me,” said Williams, who rushed for 200 yards, 5.1 yards per carry and three touchdowns last season.

In first-year coordinator Chip Long’s high-tempo offense, with four returning offensive linemen paving the way, similar results should be expected in September. Besides Williams, the Notre Dame backfield touts junior running back Josh Adams — who gained 1,768 rushing yards and 6.4 yards per carry in his first two seasons — and sophomore Tony Jones Jr., a capable short-yardage back and gifted pass-catcher who has continued to emerge this spring.

Williams is merely one enticing piece in a mouthwatering offensive pie.

“Basically, this is one big family,” Williams said. “When you’ve got that three-headed monster, we’re going to be rolling this year.”

But first, Williams has to get through the summer. He needs to keep surrounding himself with positive influences and making appropriate choices. He needs to remind himself of Aug. 19, and appreciate this opportunity.

He needs to believe in himself, and his future … and let that ink sink into his skin.

“I see myself as a totally different person,” Williams said. “I love who I’m becoming, and I know I’m not done yet.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

574-235-6428

Twitter: @mikevorel

Dexter Williams runs next to Ashton White during the Notre Dame spring football Blue-Gold game Saturday, April 22, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN