On Jan. 29 at Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Joshua Williams intercepted a pass from Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship.
Chiefs fans cheered Williams’ play as the team held on to victory. Two weeks later, the Chiefs would win the Super Bowl.
On Thursday, Williams — a Fayetteville native and graduate of Jack Britt High School and Fayetteville State University — returned home to the cheers of a different type of crowd.
Elementary schoolchildren packing a cafeteria screamed and cheered as Williams visited Loyd Auman Elementary School. The 23-year-old Super Bowl champion read the Dr. Seuss book “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” and answered the questions of children eagerly raising their hands.
Some 15 odd years ago — before Williams led the Fayetteville State Broncos at cornerback, before he became a starter for the Chiefs and before he held the Lombardi Trophy as a Super Bowl champ in February — Williams stood where those children stood.
“Little kid out of Fayetteville, just like y’all,” Williams told the students. “You haven’t got to be a football star. You’re going to be astronauts, lawyers, doctors, firefighters, counselors. Anything you want to put your mind to, really envision it. That’s all it takes.”
When Williams was that little kid in Fayetteville, Loyd Auman Elementary Principal Tara Bratcher was his second-grade teacher.
“I always call all my children my babies. Seeing one of my babies grow up and become successful and meet the dreams that they set out for themselves,” Bratcher said, “it’s unreal.”
Bratcher said Williams’ journey from little kid out of Fayetteville to Super Bowl champion will inspire the city’s children of today.
“We tell the kids every day, ‘We believe in you, and we want you to believe that you can do anything you set your mind out to be,’” Bratcher said. “To see a former student who walked in the shoes that they're walking in right now is absolutely amazing.”
Loyd Auman third-grade teacher Justin Malloy, a friend of Williams for years, said Williams is an inspiration to all the children at the school.
“That dream that I want to see all my kids reach, I feel like it would give them hope,” Malloy said. “They will now believe that they can accomplish anything by having an NFL player that just won a Super Bowl walk into this building.”
And Williams’ inspiration isn’t limited to just football, Malloy said.
“This world and today’s time, we need a lot of great people in this world,” Malloy said. “Everybody has to contribute to making this world a better place.”
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at email@example.com.