But during his two weeks of training for the NCAA Division II Wrestling Championship, he got a package from his parents that put all the work in perspective.
Inside the package was a photo of Williams pinning an opponent during his first year of wrestling, crying as he tried for the win.
“That was my first (wrestling) picture they took, when I was three years old,” Williams said. “I don’t even remember being alive at three. I don’t remember glimpses of things at three years old.”
It gave Williams a bit of humility as he readied to make the trip to Birmingham, Ala., where he’ll try to win his second consecutive national championship and end his career as a four-time All-American for the Braves.
The tournament runs Friday and Saturday, with four UNCP wrestlers making the trip. Williams is joined by sophomore Daniel Ownbey, freshman Blaze Shade, and junior transfer Justin Pencook.
It’s a group that UNCP coach Othello Johnson feels is capable of putting out a strong overall performance.
Ownbey (141 pounds) and Pencook (157) both took first place in their divisions at the NCAA Super Region 1 tournament last month. Williams took second at 165, losing a 3-2 decision in the championship match. Shade took third at 174.
“I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say that we can have three guys in the finals and three national champions,” Johnson said. “I think all four of our guys have the ability to go in there and take care of business.”
For Williams, it means getting past his regional loss, which he has used as motivation, and finishing one of the most decorated wrestling careers in UNCP history.
Last season he won the university’s first national title, finishing the season 34-1. He was also an All-American as both a freshman, when he took seventh in his division, and as a sophomore, when he took fifth. The regional loss was only his third in the last two years.
Though Williams said he tries to think of nationals as another tournament, he admits there’s a bit of emotion knowing that it’s the end.
“I guess I’m a little more motivated for this one because it’s the last go-around, it’s the last hurrah,” he said. “I’m just going out and wrestling like it’s the last match of my life.”
Ownbey also looks to contend for a national title. If he does it, it will make him the first UNCP wrestler to go undefeated in an entire season.
“I’m 35-0 right now and I’d like to end the season 39-0,” Ownbey said.
Last year, as a redshirt freshman, he took third at the national tournament. His only loss was a 7-4 decision to eventual national champion Dalton Jensen, of Nebraska- Kearney.
Ownbey got away from his normal wrestling style in the match, which has helped him prep for this year.
“Don’t force anything is what I learned,” he said.
Pencook, who transferred in this semester after finishing his associate’s degree at Gloucester (N.J.) County College, will be making the trip despite only joining the team in January. The late start presented its share of issues.
“I had to do a lot of training on my own, but I found out real quick that I wasn’t training hard enough, so I bought in to coach Johnson’s program and, up to this point, it’s really worked out.”
Pencook is 13-1 this year, his only loss coming in his second match of the year.
He’s no stranger to the spotlight. He was a two-time All-American at Gloucester, a junior college, taking third as a freshman and second last season, which has the bar set higher for this year.
“For me, it’s really a national title or bust, he said. Anything less is what I’ve already done, just at a different level,” Pencook said. “At the end of the day, it’d be the same. If I took second, it’s pretty much what I did last year, so I really want to come away with that first place.”
Rounding out the national qualifiers is Shade, a freshman from Erial, N.J., who had his eyes on a berth throughout the season.
“I changed most of my goals throughout the year, but going to the national tournament was always there,” Shade said.
Shade enters the national tournament with a 28-7 record, having gone 18-5 against Division II opponents.
Overall, Johnson hopes to improve on last season’s finish, when the Braves finished eighth as a team.
“If each of these guys do what they can do, there’s no doubt that we’re a top-10 team,” he said. “Last year we took eighth with three guys, there’s no reason why we can’t take the same, if not better, with four guys.”