Nearly 27 years after first stepping onto the University of Alabama campus as a student, Sherman Williams finally stepped onto a stage in Tuscaloosa to receive his college degree.
During that span, Williams experienced the highest of highs, including a Super Bowl victory, and the lowest of lows, which had him spend 14 years in prison.
Williams was convicted in 2000 of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and passing counterfeit currency. He was imprisoned from 2000 to 2014, and came out a different person.
“God has seen me through,” Williams told AL.com at the time. “I’m a born-again Christian. I believe Jesus sent me away to go and learn and become a better person. I think this experience has made me a better person, and I think it’s time for me to give something back, to do what the message of Christ is: To show love to the people and be a part of the ministry.”
He decided to return to school in 2017 even though it was not easy getting accepted by Alabama.
“It was a very, very, extremely tough situation just getting into qualifying position to get everything situated from being incarcerated,” Williams said of returning to school in an interview with AL.com. “So I had to overcome that obstacle. I had to get approval from a special council to be reinstated, and once I got approval from that special council, I had to get back reinstated by the school system and make sure all my courses from previous years were transferred. But all that worked out for me. …
“It was not easy by no stretch of the imagination, and I didn’t make it any easier for myself with my past history. That was a little bit of a hindrance. But God is good, and he worked everything out to where it was a thankful situation for me.”
Williams took mostly online classes with some weekend courses on campus while also working at a car dealership.
After about one-and-a-half years of classes, he finally reached enough credits to graduate with a degree in interdisciplinary studies with a concentration in community leadership.
Ready to begin my new journey as a graduate of the University of Alabama Spring 2018 class. The struggle is real but the hustle is golden. Thank God for his grace and mercy. #heartofachampion pic.twitter.com/9m8XmsobLR
— Sherman Williams (@crimsoncowboy20) May 6, 2018
“I wanted to go back for the simple purpose of being an example,” Williams said about finishing his degree requirements.
He admitted to the Tuscaloosa News that education was the last thing on his mind while at Alabama the first time around. He said his mindset was only focused on the NFL, and he achieved that dream after a stellar college career.
A native of Mobile, Alabama, Williams played for the Crimson Tide from 1991 to 1994. As a senior, the running back was first-team All-SEC and a second-team All-American as an all-purpose back.
He was then a second-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1995 draft, brought in to help take the load off Emmitt Smith.
The Cowboys would win the Super Bowl in Williams’ rookie year as he finished second on the team in rushing. He would remain Smith’s backup from 1995 to 1999 and rushed for over 1,100 yards in his NFL career.
But just a year after his pro career ended, Williams made headlines with that 2000 arrest and incarceration.
“You know, I would think that things that would kill the average man wouldn’t even make me flinch,” he said in 2006.
Williams made a complete 180 after his release and has spent the last few years doing motivational speaking to youth groups through an organization he created with another former Alabama running back, David Palmer.
“In my program at the Palmer-Williams Group, we talk to the kids about the importance of education,” he said. “We want them to understand how important education is, so I wanted to be that example that, ‘Hey, look at all the obstacles I’ve got to go through, and I’m going to complete my degree.’ So we know when obstacles come to them, they can look back and they can say, ‘Well, Sherman Williams, he went through a lot, came through a lot and he finished.’ They probably can do the same thing.”
He also said that earning his degree is comparable to winning another championship, but he still has one regret about taking this long to finish school.
“It’s going to be a great experience for me,” Williams said. “There’s just one thing that’s going to be missing. That’s going to be my mother, who passed away in 2008. One of her biggest dreams and goals was to have her kids go through college. That would have been a great, great feeling to have her being there to witness it, but I know she’s smiling down from heaven and that her youngest son has actually walked across the stage and completed what he started.”
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