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A Ton of Bricks

Williams is cornerstone at St. John Bosco

September 02, 2002|MARTIN HENDERSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine a brick hitting you at nearly 20 mph.

Imagine that brick weighing 205 pounds.

Derrick Williams, the muscular running back at Bellflower St. John Bosco High, is that brick. And he can run away from defenders as easily as run over them.

But Williams doesn't mind running over them.

He is a shade under 6 feet, and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds at the Nike camps over the summer.

"Those aren't made-up times by a high school coach," said Kiki Mendoza, who is Williams' coach at St. John Bosco. "He's got power, but when the moment calls for it, he is very elusive too. He can shake anybody out there."

He is not only the cornerstone of St. John Bosco's team, but also its program, a star player with a 3.4 grade-point average and a blue-collar work ethic. As a freshman, Williams was selected by Mendoza as the focal point of the program, from student to athlete to good citizen.

"I take that as a challenge to inspire other players and to be more of a leader," Williams said. "My teammates understand. They know I don't act all big-headed like I'm bigger than them. Some of them looked up to me, and I was surprised because I was so young, but I wanted to step up and be more of a leader to the team."

As foundations go, Williams is rock solid.

"We built an entire football program around him, and I'm not embarrassed to say that," Mendoza said. "We had heard a lot about him. We were running the option at the time and thought he was going to be our quarterback, but we had some injuries, and we went to the principal and told him we wanted to bring a freshman up to varsity, that he's physical enough, strong enough, tough enough, the whole bit."

Principal Bill Goodman was unsure and wanted to wait to ensure that Williams could handle it in the classroom. When a progress report came back, Williams had a 3.5 GPA. He performed well in limited play in three nonleague games, and then started three Serra League games. Mendoza said Williams rushed for 147 yards against Santa Margarita, 135 against Anaheim Servite and 102 against Santa Ana Mater Dei.

Williams gave up basketball and concentrated on football and baseball--he is also an outstanding center fielder and hopes to spend his summers in the minor leagues while in college--but he had hernia surgery before his sophomore season. After recovering, he sat out more of the season because of a sprained ankle.

"To me, in a different situation and if he hadn't gotten hurt his sophomore year, Derrick would be the most talked-about player out there," Mendoza said. "People don't give him the respect he deserves. He doesn't have Hershel Dennis [the graduated running back at Long Beach Poly] numbers, but he's on a team that hasn't been as good as the Polys and Los Alamitoses of the world, so his numbers aren't as inflated.

"Did I tell you that he benched 380 pounds in our last test day?"

Last season, Williams rushed 110 times for 765 yards and 10 touchdowns despite sharing the carries with Terrence King, who rushed 55 times for 430 yards and five touchdowns, and Albert Butler, who rushed 69 times for 485 yards and three touchdowns. All averaged more than seven yards per carry and all return this season.

Largely comprised of juniors a year ago, St. John Bosco (6-5) finished over .500 for the first time since 1996--the last season it won a playoff game--and qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1997. The Braves lost to Division I finalist Huntington Beach Edison in the first round, 56-34.

For Williams, it was good to play a full season without injury. Now, colleges such as UCLA, USC, Colorado and Arizona are knocking at his door. Some are interested in him as a cornerback, but most want him to run with the ball. Last season, for the first time, he played offense and defense.

"As a runner, I think I bring a combination of speed and power," Williams said. "Not only can I run away from you, I can run over you too. I like to mix it up."

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