Lucas: Graduate Bryson Williams has a story to tell about perseverance

Senior Writer

MADISON, Wis. – They will hear Bryson Williams speak from the heart. They’ll learn how Wisconsin’s nose tackle turned academic rejection into redemption. They will learn how the 22-year-old “changed my whole life” to cross the finish line. They will learn how he persevered.

Not only has Williams been selected to speak at the Wisconsin School of Business graduation celebration on Friday afternoon, but he will also speak at the Wisconsin School of Business student-athlete graduation reception. ‘UW that night. All of this will take place on the eve of Saturday’s opening ceremony at Camp Randall Stadium.

“Everyone asked, ‘Are you going to give the same speech twice?'” he asked. “Nope.”

And yet it will address and connect the student with the athlete, not mutually exclusive disciplines, not here. Soon armed with his degree (finance, investment and banking major), coupled with 39 games in four seasons in the trenches, he is well qualified to talk about such things.

“The most important thing that comes from being in a Division I program or any other type of sports program across the country, and especially Wisconsin, is that courage,” Williams pointed out. “It’s that determination that comes from being in a school and playing in a program like this.

“It’s knocked down and you have to really think about it just to get through.”

The summer before his sophomore year, Williams received some disheartening news. His application to the School of Business had been refused. This disappointment was compounded by a season-ending knee injury in November. His mental and physical tenacity/determination was being tested.

“Rejection from business school really changed my life for the better,” he admitted. “Before that, I didn’t take school as seriously. I didn’t take things outside the football field as seriously as I should have. Getting that rejection email was the wake-up call I needed. needed.

“It put my life on a straighter, more purposeful path. And from there my grades improved tremendously. I was getting A’s in classes where I should have gotten A’s. And I was getting A in classes that were even a little harder.

“Refusal is also why I started joining student organizations and developing relationships with highly motivated people who were focused on a similar career path. The whole journey has been part of the man I am now. I am about to graduate and I am extremely grateful.”

There was certainly some soul-searching during his sophomore year and he later admitted it in a social media post: “The last 365 days of my life have been anything but simple. From the school’s denial of trade in tearing the knee, losing important people, etc.

“There were a bunch of times where I felt like the world was against me.”

Asked about some of the sacrifices he had to make to ensure his overall growth, Williams went on to explain, “The whole period was fragile for me. Definitely a lot of lows. The people I lost didn’t necessarily hold me. back but were not part of the overall vision.

“Once I finally started making this change to do the things I wanted to do and be on the path to success – to be who I wanted to be – there were people I was close to at the time I I had to separate It was a difficult thing, especially when I was going through such hardships.”

It has a captivating story to tell. That’s why he filled out an application, a 300-word summary of why he should speak to business school graduates. His resilience was a selling point. Much like his identity as a football player in giving what he called a “holistic” view of student-athletes.

“I was lucky to be accepted,” said Williams, who last week presented a draft of his speech to an audience of two: the dean and associate dean of the School of Business. “It went really well… going through it made me feel very confident and took a bit of the stress off me.”

Since then, he “makes sure the delivery is as good as the content” in his nine-minute speech.

“I start applying to business school and I get rejected,” he said of the plan. “Then I really changed my whole life, did the things I needed to do to make the improvements and adjustments needed to be accepted in school. So, I met a little failure there.

“Then the next part of my speech addresses the Class of 2022’s perseverance through the pandemic…and the opportunities…the abundant opportunities this class presents us with in a whole new job market right now. I close with thanks- you on my behalf and on behalf of the whole class.”

Williams will share more of the same with his student-athlete peers.

“All my life I’ve always been someone who’s been very real about what’s going on and real about the situation I’m in,” he said. “And that helped me overcome some things. I understand the fact that I don’t need to play on Sunday and Monday nights to be successful in quotes.

“I can make my family proud. I can make myself proud. I can be happy outside of football. It’s something I’ve learned more and more through injuries. I feel so humbled to have was selected to be a student lecturer this weekend, the same way others were selected for the draft.”

He will remind his listeners of the two assemblies: “Everyone has his own way”.

• • • •

Williams’ journey began in Rockford, Illinois, an hour’s drive south of Madison. His high school years were spent in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he was twice selected to the all-state first team. After committing to the Badgers, he received a late recruiting push from new Cornhuskers coach Scott Frost.

But he stayed true to his word and to Wisconsin. He was one of the first registrants in first year.

Reflecting on his four plus years at Madison, he said: “So many good things have come out of some of the things that were bad that have happened in my life. I only have one life and I’d much rather not staying up at night thinking about things that might or might not have happened.

“I really don’t have any regrets about how it all turned out. I’ve had the most fun playing football this past season with my friends – and they’re really friends – all the D-line guys . I had so much fun doing this with them that it’s just hard for me to have any regrets at this point.”

He has memories, not the least of which was an assisted tackle in the 2021 home win over Iowa. The Badgers were protecting a two-possession lead in the third quarter when the Hawks faced a third-and-two from UW 41. Williams helped hold back Monte Pottebaum to a 1-yard gain.

On the fourth try, Pottebaum was again tackled by a gang and arrested; a turning point in the second half.

“I always wanted to be ready for any situation,” said Williams, who had three career starts, throughout his first season in 2018. “I trained like a rookie. trained just to get the opportunity to make a big play like that – to get a big save like that.

“When this opportunity came up and I took it, I was just happy with myself and being able to stay committed even though my college career didn’t necessarily turn out exactly the way I wanted. I stayed focused. and I continued to work hard when things went against me.”

Through the ups and downs, his biggest fan has always been his mother, Liz Calaway.

“I talk about it a bit in my speech,” he said. “My mum has been there for everything since I was born. She never missed a game. Things weren’t necessarily super easy growing up, but she made it seem like it was. Now I understand how really difficult things can be in the real world.

“I can’t even express how grateful I am to have the mother that I have and to have had her over me like she did. I never really understood how hard she worked until I got older and really thought about it. She worked hard.

His mother will be there for the graduation. So will his stepfather, father, grandfather, sister and brother, Donovan. In 2020, Donovan Williams was named Nebraska’s Mr. Basketball after leading the state in scoring (28.3 points). After two years at Oklahoma State, he transferred to Pacific University.

“He found a home,” Bryson said of 20-year-old Donovan, who, by a twist of fate, also had to undergo knee surgery. “We’ve always been there for each other. We always cheer each other on. I’m glad he gets another shot at this. He’s one of the toughest guys I know.”

Like so many footballers who have turned to other pursuits, Bryson Williams began to reshape her body. He weighed 315 at the end of last season. It’s down to 285. “I’ll probably find a comfortable weight around 265,” he said. “I don’t need to be 300 for no reason. I don’t want to be either.”

Williams still enjoys training and racing. Central Park in New York could be an option for the latter when he begins work on July 11 at the Morgan Stanley Building in Times Square in Manhattan. Williams had previously been a summer intern at Morgan Stanley.

“I knew going into college I wanted to do business and be part of business school,” he said. “But in terms of my career path, I really didn’t have too much idea. Through the resources available here and some of the organizations I joined, I figured out what that path looked like.”

His graduation speeches will reflect trials and tribulations, choices and journeys.

“I’m really ready (to move on) – I’m going to miss Madison, I love Madison,” he said. “I am extremely grateful and thankful for everything that has happened, good or bad, over the past four and a half years. It has really shaped the person I am today.”

Even though there is less of him, in the flesh, there is more to celebrate. More than ever.

Williams will thank her mother, Liz Calaway, when she remarked: ‘Things weren’t necessarily super easy growing up, but she made it seem like they were’

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