This story originally appeared in Dallas Cowboys Star Magazine. For subscription information, please click here.
Angela Brown was a single mother with four boys to raise. She moved all around the Dallas area in search of jobs that would keep the family going. Often, she would hold down two jobs just to make ends meet. She instilled a strong work ethic and solid values in her sons by example.
Her efforts did not go unnoticed by the Williams boys – Cory, A.J., Kenneth and Terrance. When the two older brothers went off to college, Kenneth and Terrance, four years apart, learned to count on each other. Since both were talented athletes with potential to eventually make a living on the field, sports represented a chance to possibly take care of their hardworking mother. They made a pact.
"Terrance and I always said that if I made it first, I would take care of us," said Kenneth Williams. "If I didn't, that was his promise."
As fate would have it, Terrance, the youngest of the four brothers, was the one who had to make good on their agreement. The Cowboys selected the former Baylor University standout in the third round of the 2013 draft. It was quite a journey for the entire family.
Williams not only became the first of the brothers to "make it," he burst onto the NFL scene with a bang. In just his fifth game in the league, he showed the flash and the big-play potential the Cowboys saw when they selected him. Williams caught four passes for 151 yards against Denver, including an 82-yard touchdown grab, which is the fourth-longest catch in team history and tied for the third-longest by a Cowboys rookie. Pete Gent (1966) and Herschel Walker (1986) each had 84-yard scoring receptions in their first seasons. Williams and Hall of Fame Cowboy Bob Hayes (1965) both had 82-yarders in their rookie years.
Only Hayes, Antonio Bryant and Dez Bryant had more touchdown catches (6) than Williams (5) as rookies while Billy Joe Dupree, Mike Sherrard and Michael Irvin also had five scores as rookies. Williams' 736 yards receiving are the fourth-best for rookies in club history, and his 44 receptions tied for fourth all time among Cowboys' freshmen.
Not bad for someone who started out playing flag football because his mother was afraid her baby boy would get hurt. And, it took some convincing from Kenneth for mom to let Terrance play football at all.
"Terrance always came with me when I played football. I used to throw the ball to him on the sidelines, so I could see he could play," said Kenneth Williams, who "made it" as a special education instructor working with children battling autism. "I told my mom that Terrance needed to play football. She wanted him to play basketball because she was afraid he'd get hurt. She finally agreed to let him play flag football to see if he was any good. His first game he touched the ball four times and scored four touchdowns."
Eventually, despite mom's concerns, Terrance began playing tackle football. He continued to be nearly untouchable.
"His brothers, A.J. and Kenneth, noticed their younger brother could catch the ball pretty well. They knew right away he could be a good player," said Brown. "Terrance was running with the ball, catching the ball and making touchdowns at 5. I didn't think he understood the game, but he did."
Watching Kenneth play football is what convinced Terrance to give it a shot.
"I started off playing basketball. I didn't like football because we had a lot of stuff going on. My brother played and the more I watched him, the more I wanted to play," remembered Terrance. "I finally gave it a shot and started off playing running back. I liked it and was pretty good at it. I played running back through junior high then in my freshman year of high school, I moved to receiver."
Once the family settled in the Dallas suburb of Carrollton, Terrance was able to attend the same high school, W.T White, for all four years of his prep career. The Longhorns ran a spread offense with basic language that made it easy for the young players to keep up. It turned out to be a perfect audition for college recruiters. By the time he was a senior, Williams was a force, totaling 59 catches for 972 yards and eight touchdowns.
While his high school mascot, uniforms and nickname emulated the University of Texas Longhorns, it was another Texas school about 120 miles south of the Metroplex that caught Williams' attention. Baylor University was in the midst of transforming into one of the best college football teams in the land under head coach Art Briles and his wide-open offense, which was fortified by a young quarterback named Robert Griffin III. Along with Williams, the Bears also boasted two other future NFL wide receivers in Josh Gordon and Kendall Wright.
"Coach Briles molded me into a straight assassin. All of the receivers and quarterbacks that go to Baylor know that the goal is the same, to straight out dominate," said Williams of the dynamic Bears offense. "We all complemented each other and took stress off each other. If they started double-teaming Kendall or Josh, and with 'Griff' doing what he did, we felt we were pretty hard to stop."
Before deciding on Baylor, Terrance received some brotherly advice from Kenneth, based on his experience with the recruitment process. Four years before Terrance had to decide which college to attend, Kenneth was coming out of Richardson (Texas) High School with several Division I offers.
"I was being highly recruited, but I got distracted. My senior year I had all these opportunities. All the big schools were interested me. My coach sent lots of highlights to colleges and by my senior year I was big. But, I let it get to me," said Kenneth. "I didn't have anybody to guide me. My older brothers were in college, so they were gone.
"By the end of my senior year, Terrance asked me what I was going to do, and I said I messed up. I let the SATs fly by, and I had no structure. I didn't know that you needed to take tests and submit (the scores) to colleges. I sat Terrance down and told him that I might have let everything I worked hard for slip through my fingers. There was a lot I thought I knew that I didn't. Everybody interested in signing me pulled back. Terrance watched me cry because he knew I was trying my best."
Kenneth ended up playing at Trinity Valley, a junior college in east Texas, before eventually transferring to Stephen F. Austin. A knee injury short-circuited his professional football aspirations, but he was determined to make sure his little brother did not make the same mistakes he made coming out of high school. Younger brother listened and off to Baylor he went.
Terrance appeared in 12 games at receiver and on special teams as a redshirt freshman. As a sophomore he started 10-of-13 games and caught 43 passes for 484 yards and four touchdowns, and then finished with 59 receptions for 957 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior. By his senior year, he was one of the best receivers in the country with 97 receptions for a single-season school record 1,832 yards and 12 scores. His 140.92 receiving yards per game led the nation.
When Williams fell to the third round, the Cowboys snapped up the local product, much to the delight of his family. But, his mother made sure that family and friends knew that playing so close to home could not become a problem.
"I knew he would be (in Dallas). It's a feeling that a mother gets. I prayed about it draft night and was just waiting, but I already knew it because I prayed that he would stay in Dallas," said Brown. "He wanted to stay close to check on me. And I wanted to make sure there were not a lot of distractions. I didn't give his address out because I wanted him to feel like when he goes home, he's home. He has to study, that's the place he has to do his homework, and he likes it quiet. (Playing at home) is not a distraction because nobody bothers him. When we can get him around the holidays, we just embrace him."
This season Williams stats were close to his rookie numbers, however the emergence of Cole Beasley and a renewed commitment to the running game kept him from surpassing his impressive start. Williams finished 37 receptions for 621 yards and eight touchdowns. In 2013 as a rookie, he had 44 catches for 736 yards and five scores.
Despite the drop in his totals, Cowboys wide receivers coach Derek Dooley assures that Williams has not regressed.
"Terrance is right on track with his development. The hardest thing on Terrance and about our team this year is most people confuse development with statistics," said Dooley. "We are throwing the ball on average six times less a game. The number of catches hasn't been as high as people expect of Terrance, but that doesn't mean he isn't doing a great job for us."
Williams is on board with the change in offensive philosophy because it has translated to success in the win column.
"I'm all about the team and all about winning. If we have to run the ball 30 or 40 times a game I'm perfectly fine with that. The challenge is, whenever my number gets called, I have to be ready right then and there. I have to make the most of my chances. Whether it's one or two passes a game, I have to make the most of it," said Williams. "That's what I've been trying to do all year. People can talk and say I'm falling off because my numbers don't look the same as last year, but our record is way different than it was last year. We're playing a much more balanced offense. It's not like we're throwing the ball 60 times a game and getting hits on [quarterback] Tony [Romo] that don't need to happen."
No matter the results on the field, Brown and Kenneth Williams don't much care about statistics. They have nothing but pride for their favorite Cowboy.
"(Terrance) is hard on himself because he doesn't like letting people down. If he senses any disappointment, he puts other people's feelings before himself. He's hard on himself because he wants to be the best," said Kenneth. "I text him every single game, before and after, to tell him I'm proud of him. I pray for him before the game and after, win lose or draw. He loves football so much."
A mother's pride usually has nothing to do with athletic accomplishment. Brown is no different.
"I'm most proud that he loves to make children happy. I'm a proud mom to know that everyone loves him and says good things about him. I love his character and that he loves his job," said Brown. "Terrance talks about making people smile. He does whatever he can do to put a smile on one kid's face, and that makes me happy."
If mom was worried about her baby boy as a youngster when he wore a flag football belt, one can only imagine how tough it is for her to watch him make his living in such a violent profession.
"The only thing I worry about when he's out on the field is that I want him to come home the same way he went on the field," Brown confessed. "I'm usually praying the whole three hours he's out there. I keep my eyes closed most of the time. I tell him all the time that I'll never stop worrying about him because I'll never stop being a parent."
Thinking about and seeing his brother get drafted by the hometown team, and being able to fulfill his dream of playing in the NFL, makes his brother emotional.
"Honestly, I started crying when I knew that Terrance was going to the NFL. Everybody we grew up with and everybody in the family are Cowboys fans. When he actually got drafted, and we saw [Cowboys owner] Jerry [Jones] on the screen and Terrance talking to him … I will never forget that," said Kenneth Williams. "I thought, 'He's finally made it.' I felt like I made it because Terrance made it and because I was able to help him through my own adversity. I was able to help, so I felt like I was able to make it as well."
"My mom and my brothers taught me a lot of life lessons," said Terrance Williams. "Some I had to learn the hard way. My mom let me fall down and get back up. It was one of those learning curves that I had to slowly keep building. I feel the more attention I paid to them, the more successful I became."
After struggling to make ends meet for so many years and working hard her whole life to make sure her boys were taken care of, Brown is now retired.
"(Terrance) has come through on his promise. My mom was a single parent and she worked three jobs at one point," said Kenneth Williams. "She broke her neck for us and that's what got the promise going. One day Terrance said he was going to be better than me. I always told him if you make it to the NFL, you would be better than me. When he made it, I verbally told him and shook his hand."
"Promising" is a good way to describe Terrance Williams' NFL future. The good news for the Cowboys is he has a history of fulfilling promises.