For the first time in his life, Stanley "Boom" Williams didn't feel like playing football.
Last Summer, Williams' 18-year-old sister—Kenyatta Millbrooks—passed away suddenly. The tragedy flattened Williams, and it left him questioning whether he wanted to play out his junior season at the University of Kentucky during such a time. Eventually, Williams realized that football and the people it brings together could help him cope with what happened. He went on to record 1,170 rushing yards (6.8 yards per carry), leading Kentucky to its first winning season since 2009.
After an emotional junior season, Williams declared for the 2017 NFL Draft. STACK caught up with him at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida, to find out more about the man they call Boom.
STACK: Where did you grow up?
Boom Williams: I'm from around Atlanta. I grew up in a very tough area. Not a lot of people make it out where I'm from, but I've been blessed and very fortunate to make it out. The support of people around the community where I live, my friends and family, they were a big help in my successfully going through high school and making it to college and now on my way to the NFL.
When did you realize football could help you make it out?
In high school. I played as a freshman. I played varsity all four years. Freshman year was a big year for me. After the season, I went to the University of Georgia's "Dawg Night" camp. I ran a 4.28 40-Yard Dash, which really kicked things off for me. Mark Richt gave me an offer, and that was my first offer. That was very big for me.
Have you always been a competitive person?
I've always been competitive. Growing up where I'm from, there were a lot of other competitive guys. Some of the guys I remember going against in high school with really good talent are Isaac Rochell [a fellow 2017 NFL Draft prospect out of Notre Dame] and Brendan Douglas, who's currently playing at Georgia right now. There were a lot of guys I played against with good talents. It was fun being able to compete and have good games every Friday night in high school.
Have you always had a strong work ethic when it comes to training?
Training's always been very big for me, because I knew that if I wanted to play as a freshman at my high school, I was going to have to train a lot coming out of middle school. I trained a lot during that offseason, I think that was the hardest I trained during an offseason, because I realized it was going to be the start of me getting to where I wanted to be. I trained real hard—pulled sleds, flipped tires, parachute runs, ran hills. We got after it.
When you arrived at Kentucky, did any one player or coach take you under his wing?
Jojo Kemp—he was the older running back when I got to Kentucky. He's a good guy, great teammate. He was always there and helped me throughout the process. Helped me when I first got there, even from my sophomore to my junior year he was still helping me. Being able to learn from him and his experience—he came in and played as a freshman, and I was trying to do the same thing he did—it was really big. We learned a lot from each other, and it was definitely fun to be able to compete and make each other better. We've got a relationship that will last us a lifetime. Coach Chad Scott, he was the running backs coach when I got there. He helped me a lot. He moved to UNC before last season, but we still talked over the phone. We had conversations, because he still watched me play. He was still giving me tips and things just from what he was seeing on TV. He was a big help in the process.
Do you have a favorite game from your time at Kentucky?
I do. This past year we played the University of Louisville. Very good team, crosstown rivals, last game of the regular season. It wasn't just big for me, but for the whole state of Kentucky. It had been awhile since we beat Louisville. They were having the best season they'd had in years, a top-10 offense and a very good defense. So being able to celebrate that victory, holding up the Governor's Cup trophy, those are the moments we play the game for. It's something I'll never forget. [Williams ran for 63 yards and a touchdown in the 41-38 victory]
What was the toughest thing you had to overcome during your college career?
The toughest thing I had to deal with was before this season started, my younger sister died. I wasn't really sure if I was going to play my junior year. I was trying to be back home with my family going through that time. But I was able to get over that hard hump with all the support of my teammates, coaches and the whole state of Kentucky and Big Blue Nation. They supported me and made sure I was good. Being able to get away and not think about it and be around my teammates all day, it was very huge for me. Just being able to play the game. I was just blessed and fortunate to be able to get over that huge hump and still have a pretty good, productive junior season.
Has football always been a way for you to escape other facets of your life?
It has. Football has been a huge getaway for me. That's why I love the game. Being able to get away from things that are going around outside football has been a huge relief for me. Being able to go out there and work and get better every day, it's very big. I've had moments I'll never forget and relationships that'll last me a lifetime because of this game.
What do you love most about football?
The relationships it gives you. The bonds. Being part of a brotherhood and being able to make connections with people. People from all over the world. Being able to learn with and compete against all these different guys, that's why I think I love the game so much. It gives you the chance to be part of something special.
How competitive are you with the guys you're training with at IMG?
Oh man, it's been great. Being around other top athletes, we all realize we're working toward the same goals. It's very fun to go out there and work and make each other better every day. We all compete. Whether we're on the field or in the weight room, we all just want the best for each other. You have extra motivation with those guys around, I think it pushes us just to be great.
Nutrition is a big focus at IMG. How has your eating changed since you arrived?
I'm a big wings guy, but I've been able to cut back on that a lot. Being able to eat the foods they provide, the breakfast, lunch and dinner, has been very big in my process here. I'm changing my body and I feel a lot better because I'm eating better. Being able to see what helps you and your performance on the field has been big for me. I wasn't very big on mixed vegetables when I arrived, but since I've gotten here, I started eating them a lot.
What are the emotions going to be like for you when you find out what team you'll be joining?
I think I'll be in a world of shock. I don't think I'll be able to say much. It's been a very long process. Being able to have this dream since I was a kid, watching NFL football my whole life. Getting a chance to have your name called during the NFL Draft is very huge. I'll be shocked, thankful for the opportunity I've been given. Then I'll want to go in and make the most of that opportunity.
If you could compare yourself to any animal, what animal would it be?
A cheetah. A cheetah is fast and aggressive, and I think that's me on the field. I have the same instincts as a cheetah. When a cheetah sees something that it wants, it goes and gets it. On the field, I try my best to go out there and be who I am and who my teammates and coaches need me to be. Be that cheetah, be fast and make plays.
What advice would you give to high school athletes?
Enjoy the process. It goes by so fast, enjoy every moment. Before you know it, high school is over and you're going to college. Enjoy the process and just be thankful for every opportunity you get. Cherish every moment.