URBANA – As a member of the Fighting Illini football team in the 1980s, David Williams set many records on the field. He finished his collegiate career as the second leading receiver in NCAA history. And he’s a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. As his beloved team gets ready for its season opener, David is back in Central Illinois to hold a fundraising golf tournament.
Williams talked with Illinois Newsroom’s Reginald Hardwick about the tournament, and of course, the Fighting Illini past and present.
DW: It’s always nice to be back. It’s a great place. I have many, many fond memories here. So I love coming here.
RH: Why did you choose to come to the UofI back in the 80s?
DW: Well, the main reason was my big brother was all big 10 receiver here, and I was looking forward to playing with him. And unfortunately, the first time I got on turf, I fell down and tried to dive for ball and impress the coach and I tore my shoulder. And I missed the whole season. So I never got to play with my big brother.
RH: But you made up for it, certainly, by becoming a Hall of Famer.
DW: Yes, yes. You know, I had great teammates, too, I had a really good coach who was a little bit ahead of his time, with his office offensive game plans and his unique style. Now, it’s like everybody runs when we were running back in the 80s. And you had to change it up to compete with the big boys, Michigan, Ohio State, and Iowa because those guys play Smash Mouth. And, you know, the big linemen and the great running backs weren’t coming here. So they were all going to those three, you know, the top school, so he had to mix it up and change it up to to put us on a map. And that’s what happened.
Click below to hear why Williams thinks UCLA and USC joining the Big Ten is ‘crap.’
RH: Let’s talk about this golf tournament, which is Friday morning at Lake of the Woods golf course in Mahomet. Why did your foundation decide to hold the event here?
DW: Well, I was I was signing some autographs for a collector here. And then, you know, I was gracious enough where I wasn’t asking for any money or anything like that. And then one day, he said, ‘well, what would you like?’ I said, you know, ‘I always wanted to have a golf tournament.’ He said, ‘let me make a call, let me call you back.’ He made a few phone calls. He called a golf course, Guy reserved a date. And he said, ‘we can make that happen. He said his might be short notice, but we could probably make it happen.’ He made a few phone calls and then checked with interest, some people in the community and they were on board and then that’s how we got going.
RH: And I understand you’ll have some other sports celebrities taking part?
DW: Yes, we will have Craig Swope. We’ll have Keith Taylor. Keith Byars was a running back he just went into the hall of fame in college football. One of my nemesis at Ohio State we’ve been good friends, Rickey Foggie was a quarterback at a University of Minnesota.
RH: And again, tell me about the charity that it benefits?
DW: The Carle hospital pediatric unit… for beds, places to stay for their families who have to stay in a hospital, you know, comfortable living arrangements while they’re there.
RH: So are you gonna stick around town? I hear there’s a little bit of a season opener.
DW: Yes, yes, they play against Wyoming at two o’clock on Saturday, so we have some tickets and we’re gonna go tailgate for a little while; hang out with some of my alumni from the University of Illinois and we’re walking out eat up all their food. And then we’ll go to the game and cheer on the Fighting Illini.
RH: This is the second year for Bret Bielema as head coach, how do you think he’s doing?
DW: Well, they say he’s doing a good job recruiting. But I’m not from Missouri, but I like that philosophy. ‘Show me.’ I don’t care about all the press and how great somebody is saying they’re doing I want to win. I played here. I want to watch them win. I don’t think that we’ve been doing a good job in the last decade. Football wise because we have the resources we have the kids in Chicago. We have a location where we should field better teams than we’ve been doing. And, you know, [season average wins] 5-and-7, 4-and-8… that’s unacceptable to me. So I’m not happy about how our how our program has been in the past. But they’re saying he’s doing a good job. So we’ll see.