Flint, Michigan is known for being the birthplace of General Motors and for its recent economic struggles, but according to former Patriots defensive end Brent Williams, Flint should be known for its athletes. Williams, a seventh round draft pick for the Patriots in 1986 who played eight of his 11 seasons in the NFL with New England, is on a long list of NFL players who hail from the city. ?
"Probably one of the things that I am most proud of is being from the city of Flint," Williams said. "Not just because of the economic times and hardships that city has endured, but the number of athletes that have come out of that city."
Among them are New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (1984-95), 2009 Heisman Trophy winning running back Mark Ingram of Alabama, Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl lineman Jake Long (2008-present), NFL All-Pro receiver Andre Rison (1989-00) and 11-year journeyman defensive back Lonnie Young (1985-96).
"It's just a history of great athletes," Williams said. "People from Flint will tell you that they make two things there and that's cars and athletes. It's just a different feeling toward a hometown. I don't know if anywhere else in the country has that kind of allegiance toward their hometown, especially with all the difficulties of growing up in that city. We were the murder capital of the United States for most of my high school years. To experience all the different things from socioeconomic challenges and all of those types of things, it's amazing the number of kids that make it out of there."
Williams emerged from Flint with a strong football resume that earned him a scholarship to the University of Toledo, but even more impressive was the importance he put on his education from a young age. As a sophomore in high school, Williams was accepted into the National Honor Society, a distinction not typically granted to eligible high school students until their junior year.
"I wish I could take the credit for the emphasis I put on education, but I know that comes from my mother," Williams said. "I grew up in a single-parent home and that was her rule. You had to excel academically or there was no basketball, there was no football. She did not accept anything less than your absolute best academically."
Williams' attitude toward education was reflected in every endeavor he tackled. At Toledo, Williams played football and majored in business administration with a concentration in marketing. And despite being a late-round selection out of a school not recognized for producing NFL players, Williams started every game his rookie year.
"The against-all-odds way that I came into the league as a low round draft pick and having the opportunity to start every game my rookie year were highlights of my career," he said.
The combination of wanting to prove that he could play at the highest level and his pride in being from Flint helped him earn a starting spot.
"As a rookie in the NFL, you get advice from a lot of different people," Williams said. "Carl Banks was [in the NFL] for a couple of years prior to me, and I remember talking to him before I went to training camp and he said, 'I don't care what round you're in, you're from Flint. That's what we do.'"
That's exactly what Williams did during his 11-year career. In eight seasons with the Patriots, Williams recorded 43.5 sacks. His later-round draft status never mattered to him, and it didn't matter to his coaches either.
"They could care less whether you were a first round pick or a seventh round pick," Williams said. "They wanted guys who are committed, professional, come out and play as hard as they can. They rewarded you by giving you playing time. And all anyone ever wants is the chance to show what you can do at that level."
Williams brought the same attitude to his continued education. With an eye to his post-NFL career, he took advantage of an NFL program that places players in internships.
"Being a part of that NFL Internship Program, I got a chance during the offseason to work for different companies and kind of see where or what I'd like to do when my football days were over," he said.
The third he completed was with Smith Barney in its investment advisory branch.
"I felt at home there and really enjoyed it. I've been in the industry ever since," he said.
Currently, Williams is Vice President in the Wealth Management Group of a division of the Bank of New York Mellon called Delta Equity. About a third of his clients are professional football players.
"I have the great fortune [to work] with athletes," he said. "That keeps me close enough to the game to enjoy it, but I'm not sore on Mondays like these guys are. If they manage their money properly, and I try to advise guys on how to do that, then they can do very well for themselves the rest of their lives."
In addition to his work with Bank of New York Mellon, Williams recently began working for the National Collegiate Scouting Association. The opportunity with the NCSA came after he wrote a book called Recruit My Son, inspired by his son's experience with the college recruiting process.
"It talked about the different obstacles and challenges that arise when you try to navigate through the process," he said. "It's kind of a how-to guide based on how our family navigated through it."
With the NCSA, he speaks to student athletes about what sports did for his life and how they can use sports as a vehicle to further their education.
"It's very important to me because I know the impact sports had on my life," Williams said.
Family is also important to Williams. His oldest son is now a sophomore on North Carolina's football team. He also helps coach his second son's high school football team at Catholic Memorial High School in Massachusetts and runs an AAU basketball program for which his daughter plays.
Williams has tried to pass on the importance of education to his athletically gifted children.
"If you ask any of them what is important about their athletic careers, they'll focus on academics," he said. "That's a legacy that's attributable to my mother and the importance that she placed on it in my life."
Although Williams is over 15 years removed from his playing days with the Patriots, he still feels a strong connection with the team.
"It is really exciting to see how the organization, from top to bottom, has really evolved into one of the marquee organizations in the National Football League," he said. "And not just from the success on the field, but the way the alumni players are treated as part of the New England Patriots family. The Kraft Family has done a tremendous job of extending opportunities for us to be a part of the organization's recent string of success. I know that the guys in the [New England Patriots] Alumni Club take as much pride in the success that the team is having now as if we were there playing ourselves."
The pride Williams feels is also due to his experience with Patriots fans.
"You hear about different organizations and how passionate the fans are," Williams said. "I can't tell you how underrated our fans are. They do a tremendous job of supporting our team. I really appreciate that my time as a New England Patriot was appreciated by the fans. If there is anything I can add, it's just thanks for continuing to support me as a player and the memories of my time here."