Sep. 13—Kendrick Williams appreciates the free-wheeling nature of art. There are no rules or guidelines for what he should or shouldn't put on paper; he's allowed to lean into his expressive side.
In one high school art class, Williams was assigned to cover his eyes with his off-hand, while using the other to draw something — anything. He mimicked the assignment running his hand haphazardly across the table. Then, he could use color to fill in the negative space and embellish the piece, creating something dazzling.
That's sort of how the Joppatowne defensive back plays football.
As a 6-foot-2, 180-pound senior who turns 17 in December, he can fly all over the field in man or zone coverage. But when the ball goes up, Williams can get to the point of attack for a colorful play.
It's the reason why the locksmith holds offers from schools like Army, Navy, Lehigh and Howard, among others, and could become Joppatowne's first Division I football player in over 20 years. The last Mariner to reach that level was defensive lineman Jeremy Navarre, a 2003 graduate who excelled at the University of Maryland before enjoying a brief stint in the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
"You always need an example for the boys to follow," Joppatowne coach Albert Goode III said. "Examples give hope. Sometimes you just need to see that it's possible. For us to have a guy that people want to pay for him to go to school, it's amazing. ... He plays an exciting position. He's out there by himself on an island, one of the toughest jobs in football."
The highlight tapes are littered with moments where Williams, at times in the safety position, will roam pre-snap as the last line of defense and sniff out the action seconds later. In man coverage at corner, his tracking ability is distinct, fluid on tape like a pen gliding over canvas.
"Art is the kind of thing where you can just put everything on paper," Williams said. "Everything that comes to your mind you can just put it on paper. And whether you ball it up and throw it away or put it up on your wall, you did it. I got many things in my room on my wall."
Williams proudly displays his better drawings — the ones he doesn't throw away. There are sketches of Nike Air Jordan shoes, items from his clothing brand, "4everchasing," and depictions of various athletic accomplishments.
The first homemade piece to be hung up was a bit of a prophecy.
He used black and red pens paying homage to his Edgewood Middle School football team and HC United AAU basketball team. The outskirts are filled with footballs and basketballs next to goalposts and rims.
Right in the middle it reads, "Varsity by 10th grade," something his middle school rec coach encouraged him to strive for.
At that point, Williams had only recently started playing.
His father, Kenny Williams, introduced Kendrick to football while coaching at Joppatowne then Harford Tech. The younger Williams would meander the sidelines, be present at team dinners and share in the camaraderie amongst players and coaches. Kendrick was smitten.
Kenny never pushed football on his son. At times he even discouraged him from it. If Kendrick wanted to play football, the onus was on him to ask.
"I just wanted him to know that he was more than a football player, more than an athlete," Kenny said. "He could do anything he wanted to."
The value of being multifaceted had been steadfastly instilled.
It was 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning shortly after Kenny wrapped up his second season coaching when an 11-year-old Kendrick let his father know he wanted to play football. They wasted no time. Kendrick was still wearing pajama pants and a black T-shirt. He backpedaled along the side of the house while the sun came up, digging into the grass with a pair of Converse while Kenny drilled passes to his budding athlete.
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"I told him, 'You're gonna play, you got to be all in," Kenny said. "You gotta be dedicated to the game."
Early morning workouts became commonplace for Kendrick with his dad regularly there to support. Once Kenny was resting after undergoing surgery but still popped up to take his son to the field. During the recent heat advisory forcing cancellations around Harford County, "Dad, can I go out after dark to work out?" he asked.
Goode first met Kendrick as a sixth grader. But the second-year head coach has one distinct memory of seeing him two years later. Kendrick was playing defensive end when, in this particular middle school game, he caught a touchdown and blocked a punt. Goode thought to himself, 'Yeah, he's a different Kendrick now."
The pandemic wiped Kendrick's freshman year. Come 10th grade, he not only made varsity, he started. He moved from defensive end to safety on Goode's recommendation and fulfilled the written prophecy he saw displayed every day at home.
Kendrick's senior season is his chance to stake his claim in Joppatowne lore uplifted by a drought-ending college commitment on the horizon. Although he still leans on two vital gems of advice from his father: "Always believe in yourself, don't be a follower" and "Take the trash out early."
Football is certainly the main focus and a driving force in Kendrick's life but art continues to be his decompressor and an avenue for expression.
"I think having a hobby [outside of football] helped because it was one that he developed on his own," Kenny said. "It shocked me when I saw his first drawings. I'm like, 'Where did this even come from?' But it wasn't just the drawing it was the attention to detail in each drawing. He's always been that kind of person."