Commentary

Ishaq Williams learns from tragedy

Lincoln's standout defensive end lost his brother in April, and is more focused than ever

Updated: October 22, 2010, 3:26 PM ET
By Ian Begley | Special to ESPNNewYork.com

BROOKLYN, N.Y -- Ishaq Williams is a 6-foot-6, 230-pound offensive lineman's worst nightmare.

He's the top-ranked football player in the state of New York; he's being recruited by 30 BCS schools, and has realistic plans to play in the NFL one day.

The Lincoln High School defensive end lives, eats and breathes football.

But, believe it or not, Williams doesn't watch the game.

On any given Sunday, you can find Williams hanging out at his Bedford-Stuyvesant home, nursing his body back to health after that weekend's battle on the gridiron. He may go for a light run or stretch, but he won't be watching the New York Giants or Jets on TV.

"I'm not really a fan, so I don't need to watch," Williams said. "On Sundays, I need to rest my body and take care of myself. So, I focus on that."

For Williams, Sunday is just another day in the highly-scheduled life of a blue-chip football recruit. He spent his summer shuttling from Brooklyn to Manhattan five days a week to fine-tune his body for the PSAL season. The intense workout schedule was nothing new to the 17-year-old senior. Williams and his father have been working to refine his game during spring and summer workouts since he was nine years old.

"I believe that God just doesn't give you good things and you sit there and enjoy them," Shaun Williams, Ishaq's father, said. "You have to put work with every blessing that God bestows."

It's a theory that Shaun applies directly to his son.

When nine-year-old Ishaq first told his father that he wanted to play college football at the University of Miami, his father could have brushed it off as a childhood fantasy. Instead, he formed a plan.

It started with a guided tour of the University of Miami. It continued with offseason training all over Brooklyn. Shaun had Ishaq running stairs and hills and doing pushups and plyometrics all over Brooklyn, from Prospect Park to the Parade Grounds.

Shaun, a counselor at York College, estimates the value of an athletic scholarship to a Division I school at $400,000. He knows they don't just hand them out to anyone. So he wanted to put his son in position to get the attention of college recruiters.

"The whole idea was to take the chance out of it," Shaun said.

The acute and unique focus on the chase for a college scholarship continued each summer, and eventually extended to the classroom. Williams attended summer school in 2009 to get ahead, and is now just two credits shy of gradiuation. He is on pace to graduate at the end of this semester and enroll early at the school of his choice.

But all of the planning, training, pushups and extra classes were put on hold on April 23, 2010.

That night, Ishaq's younger brother, Emmanuel, was shot and killed in Brooklyn. Ishaq and Emmanuel would have played together on Lincoln's varsity team this fall.

"It was a tragic passing," Lincoln coach Shawn O'Connor said.

A day after his 15-year-old brother's funeral, Ishaq sat in a classroom and took the SAT exam, one of the final hurdles he needed to clear in order to qualify for college.

When he reached the essay section of the exam, a question was posed asking, "Do you have any regrets?"

So Ishaq wrote about what was on his mind that day. He wrote about his brother.

"I wrote about maybe if I was there, maybe it wouldn't have happened," Ishaq said.

He took a week away from football. During that time, his teammates came in groups to visit him at home. They were also there for him when he came back to the practice field.

"It brought us a lot closer," O'Connor said. "We found out Ishaq has got more than one brother, he's got 45."

It also gave Ishaq a deeper focus.

Understandably, Ishaq did not want to discuss his brother's death, but his father and coach said that Williams brought an intensity to his workouts afterward that they hadn't seen prior to Emmanuel's passing.

"I think he realized that life is precious," Shaun said. "Life can be gone at any moment. While he didn't have his brother anymore, he still has a dream that they shared together. I think a part of him has really taken this burden and put it on his back and he's decided he's going to do reps with it."

On Tuesday afternoon at Lincoln, Williams was going through reps with his teammates during practice. He's looking to lead the Railsplitters to a city title this season while sorting through his recruiting. Williams put up impressive numbers last season (45 tackles, 11 sacks), and with his size and speed (he's been clocked running a 4.6-second 40-yard dash), he's going to give PSAL offensive lines headaches again in 2010.

Ishaq had six tackles and a fumble recovery against Port Richmond last Saturday in Lincoln's 28-7 home win. Oh, and he also recorded some college games that day. He taped the Penn State-Alabama, Notre Dame-Michigan and Ohio State-Miami games. But he didn't watch to see who won or lost.

"He was watching tapes just to see how the players who play his position play," his father said. "He wants to see what they do and how they do it to see how he'd fit in."

Makes sense. After all, it's just a part of the plan.

Ian Begley is a regular contributor to ESPNNewYork.com.

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