ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — A coaching change changed everything for Javonte Williams.
He won three consecutive state titles at Wallace-Rose Hill in his first three prep seasons in North Carolina. He inspired fear as a linebacker, averaging double digit tackles per game.
Kevin Motsinger took over the program and met with Williams. He believed Williams could help the team more at running back as a senior.
"I didn't really know the new coach. When he came up to me and said that, I was like, 'All right. I am going to stick with it.' He's the head coach and he must know what he's talking about," said Williams, who will be featured in Denver7's Meet The Picks Wednesday night at 6 p.m. "I embraced the change, worked hard and it all worked out."
Williams found that he liked running past and over players more than tackling them. He left tire tracks on defenders, rushing for 2,271 yards and 27 touchdowns. His performance in the state championship, in part, led the Broncos to move up from the 40th pick to the 35th overall for a 2021 fourth rounder, jumping ahead of the Dolphins in the second round.
Williams rushed for 207 yards at UNC's home stadium, including 73 on the first play from scrimmage. A scholarship offer for the valedictorian followed two days later, his first from a Division I school.
"A dream come true," he said.
At UNC, Williams blossomed into a star. Despite splitting time with Michael Carter, Williams posted 1,140 yards on the ground with 27 touchdowns. He boasted 42 runs of 10-plus yards, and showed versatility in pass protection and as a receiver (25 catches, 303 yards, three scores). Just grab the popcorn and watch his highlights of the Miami game if you want an idea of Williams' talent.
Melvin Gordon, in the last year of his contract after averaging 4.98 yards per carry over the final eight games last season, remains the Broncos clear starter. But, Williams projects as the future.
"With Javonte, he’s an explosive runner. He did a really nice job in the passing game with regard to protection. He displayed an ability to catch the ball, which are all things that we’ve seen in the training. You never really know how a guy learns until you work with him. Having worked with him now, he’s a quick learner and he’s got great instincts with regard to football. It shows up on the field," offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "Everyone has someone in their life that just gets it. He just gets it."
Williams' violent running style -- which should be on display in Saturday's preseason opener against the Vikings -- belies his personality. He is humble, soft-spoken. Williams grew up in Wallace, population 3,000 about 40 miles from Wilmington, N.C. Everybody, it seems, has a nickname. Back home, Javonte goes by "Pookie."
"They actually called my dad [Jermaine] that when it was little. When I started playing rec, I played with one of his friends and he said, 'You are Pookie’s son, right?' I said, 'Yes sir.' So he started calling me Little Pookie. And that just stuck with me and I as started getting bigger, they took the little off and started calling me Pookie and my dad Big Pookie," Williams said.
There is a blend of confidence and respect with Williams. He is not afraid to roll up his sleeves, reflected in his academics in high school and college -- "That comes from my parents [Jermaine and Shekemia Williams]. Growing up, I always had to do my work before I could go out and play so it was always things like that. It stuck with me," Javonte said. In his short time with the Broncos, he has made in impression.
"I am here to help this team win," Williams said. "That’s what I am working toward everyday. Putting my best foot forward and trying to show coaches that I am someone they should play. ... Honestly I think [my running style] comes from me playing linebacker and me liking to compete. I feel like if I am one on one with somebody, I am going to win that situation every time. Just watching players like Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Chris Carson, Marshawn Lynch, they got some of the running styles of the way I do. Watching that, I feel like defenses get tired of that.”
In 15 minutes of conversation, one thing becomes clear: Williams loves football. When he failed to get offers in high school, despite his stardom, Williams considered quitting. But he trusted his faith, pushing forward and into position to make an impact as NFL standout.
"I just kept believing. I feel like everything happens for a reason. God, he makes no mistakes," said Williams, listed as second on the depth chart behind Gordon and ahead of Mike Boone.
"Just look at the way I was recruited, getting an offer my last game of senior year. You can’t even make that up," Williams said. "And to have the kind of year I had. It’s not luck at this point when everything keeps happening like this.”