What might have been for Robert Williams III? A football coach can’t help wondering

Do you ever watch Boston Celtics center Robert Williams III and wonder what he could do on the football field? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve been wondering the same thing for 10 years, starting when he was a freshman and I was a football coach at North Caddo Magnet High School.

I don’t remember the first conversation, but even at 6-foot-5, I do remember having to look up to talk to a freshman and quickly realizing it was a first.

He politely listened to what I had to say and smiled. He didn’t block my recruiting advances and throw my pitch back in my face, like he did with Golden State’s Draymond Green in Game 4 of the NBA Finals last Friday night. 

So, you’re saying there’s a chance? Williams never said “No.” And I never stopped wondering “What if?”

Beginning his sophomore year of high school, Williams was already the “big man on campus,” and not because he was tall and a basketball star. Great personality. Always cracking jokes. Fun-loving guy. Never a bad day. And one day during the first week of school, he reeled me in. 

“I’m coming out (to practice) today,” Williams told me, as I stood at lunch duty.

I wanted to believe it was true, but it wasn’t.

To add insult to injury, I had to see him every day in my English II class — a daily reminder of my recruiting failures.

I left North Caddo after Williams’ sophomore year and went into administration. He left North Caddo after his senior year and went to College Station where in 2017 he was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. 

But, I’ve never been able to shake my quandary. Where would you put him on the football field? During his early years in high school, he was all bones. A toothpick. I was thinking of a slightly taller version of Michael Irvin. Randy Moss, even. 

Now? Tight end, all the way. The weightlifting program at Texas A&M helped him tremendously. Are you kidding me? Run five to seven yards, depending how many yards you need for a first down, and turn around. Tell the QB to throw it where the other team isn’t. How could you stop that? Williams’ wingspan is 7-6! Just put the ball in the general area code and he can pull it in. 

Oh, well. Football isn’t for everybody, and to say it has worked out well for Williams is an understatement. 

If you’re a Boston fan, you know him as “Time Lord,” a nickname he received soon after being drafted with the 27th pick in 2018. He overslept and missed his initial conference call with Boston media. Then he missed his flight to Boston. Quite an underwhelming first week of Williams’ NBA career for sure.

While “Time Lord” started as a way for cynical Celtic fans to explain away the rookie’s mistakes, it has taken a different meaning during this season – his first year as a fulltime starter.  Now, “Time Lord” stops time as he moves across the court to block or disrupt shots.

Williams, still possessing the fun-loving personality he had in high school, has owned the nickname in the same way he has owned many of his opponents who have failed to score against him.  

Although he had 12 blocked shots in four games during the NBA Finals – including four blocks in Boston’s two victories — Williams is much more than a one-trick Celtic. He had a postseason high 12 rebounds Friday night, scored seven points, and added four assists. Monday night, he had 10 points, 8 rebounds and contested a game-high 15 shots, and was the only Celtic to have a positive plus/minus rating as Boston outscored Golden State by 11 in his 30 minutes of action.

His old English teacher can overlook his football denial as he plays through a left knee injury which has limited his minutes during the postseason. The thing that impresses me the most is his grit — especially late in the game — and instincts, which are demonstrated by the assists.

Back at North Caddo? He was – and will always be – known as “BooButt.” I don’t know how he got that nickname, and I’m a little afraid to ask. 

What I do know is that “BooButt” fans in North Caddo are watching the NBA Finals, and commenting on social media. They will be watching their favorite NBA player again tonight during Game 6.

If I’m being honest, I haven’t followed Williams’ career as closely as I should have. It took a Shreveport-Bossier Journal reader to send me a message on Facebook to light a fire under my boobutt. There are other scribes on the SBJ roster who have their finger on the pulse of the NBA. 

It hasn’t been easy for me to face my football recruiting failures, but we had a breakthrough Friday night and a painful Monday evening, sitting there pulling for the Boston Celtics and No. 44.

And wondering, “What if we change that to No. 88 and put him at tight end for the Dallas Cowboys?”