Words by Nick Norris | Images by Al Blanton
Chavis Williams laughs under his breath as he recalls his first encounter with former Baltimore Ravens teammate Ray Lewis: “He called me ‘Slim’ because of my size. He asked me if I would get him an apple from the cafeteria, and when I came back he had me a new pair of shower slides. I still have those to this day. He kind of took me under his wings and showed me the ropes.”
Later, Chavis relaxed by a Baltimore pond in the offseason, a fishing pole in his hand, an Alabama national championship ring on his finger, and Lewis by his side. He remembers thinking he had accomplished the impossible—what many constantly said were unrealistic goals—and how he had done it over and over again. This, he thought, is how sitting on top of the world felt.
Before the Ravens, before the University of Alabama and Nick Saban, before his senior year in high school, Chavis’ eyes were locked on Arkansas.
Houston Nutt, who was then head coach of the Razorbacks, marched into the old barbecue joint on the side of rural Highway 78 to see Green Top’s young employee and Dora High School star. Nutt soon became comfortable with the area, visiting Chavis five times in only two months.
“I really liked the way he ran his program,” Chavis admitted. “I felt at home with him. I visited twice. It was actually the first time I had ever flown on a plane by myself. I almost left my luggage in Memphis because it was a real quick turnaround.”
But it was not to be. One man would drastically alter his outlook, a man with a name now considered hallowed in Alabama: Nick Saban.
In January 2007, Saban was hired as the Tide’s head coach and made heavily recruiting Chavis one of his first objectives. At that point, football season was over, and Williams had been committed to Arkansas for months. He thought his future was set on a definite, unwavering course. But Saban had alternate plans.
Williams’s first meeting with Saban surpassed his expectations in every way, and his face lights up at the recollection. “He came through the hallways and I was the last one to know it. Mason Wallace, a big-time Alabama fan, came running down the hallway and was like, ‘Nick Saban’s here!’ And I had never seen him in person. I get to the field house, and I’m expecting him to be big because I’ve seen Houston Nutt so I’m expecting a big guy, and it’s this little guy there. Intimidating though.”
In their first meeting, Saban told Williams all of the flaws he noticed in his game and explained how he would correct them and improve his talents. He challenged Williams, who in time, decommited from Arkansas to face Saban’s challenge head on.
In doing so, Williams witnessed the evolution of the Tide program from the culture built by Mike Shula to one dominated by Saban’s philosophies. He recalls how discipline problems and world views were drastically transformed over the first year. How players began to repeat quotes and lessons repeatedly drilled into them by the coaching staff. How young men bought into the Saban process.
“It was just like something that was supposed to happen. The results show,” explained Chavis.
In 2008, the Tide went 12-0 before falling to Florida in the Southeastern Conference Championship. That year, Williams experienced his most memorable moment with the program. With 70,000 filling the Georgia Dome on a sweltering fall night, 24th-ranked Alabama entered as an underdog to No. 9 Clemson. But during the game, Williams wrapped up Cullen Harper for a bone-crushing sack. “They put it in Sports Illustrated,” recalled Chavis. “I was a little nervous before that game, but I just did what God told me.”
That has been a constant theme throughout Chavis’ life. In the face of adversity, he lets God lead.
The following year, the Tide met Texas in the 2009 national championship game, where a vicious defensive struggle played out at the Rose Bowl. Chavis, Marcell Dareus, and the rest of the defense helped the Crimson Tide break a 17-year championship drought. Watching the clock tick down to zero was one of the defining moments of Chavis’ life and continues to define him today.
“I’m always going to be known as a champion, not just a state champion, but a national champion,” Chavis says. “Look at Wikipedia, and it’s there. I wear my ring with pride. It’s something to be proud of, and I thank the Lord every day for the opportunity I had.”
After college, his relationships with his teammates continued to remain solid. He keeps in contact with now lifelong friends such as Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower, Marquis Maze, and Rolando McClain. “I keep in touch with a lot of guys. I actually helped Marcell Dareus with a football camp this July. Alex Watkins, he was my college roommate. I’m in his wedding in January, so that’s a big-time moment for me.”
Two years after winning the national championship game, William’s sheer determination landed him in the Baltimore locker room. Once again he had done the impossible: made an NFL roster as an undrafted player.
Williams was released after a year with the team, but was not distressed because he always planned on returning home. He treasured his time in Baltimore, but believes he would not have enjoyed being there permanently.
Upon returning home, Chavis chose to influence the lives of young men by helping them achieve their dreams in football and becoming valuable members of society.
Now entering his third year as Carbon Hill High School’s defensive coordinator, Chavis’ life now revolves around children, not only in the field house, but at home. His three sons are the light of his life and the immeasurable pride he feels for them shines as brightly as his championship ring.
When asked what advice he would give to a young athlete with aspirations of playing college or professional football, Chavis said, “I would tell them not to focus so much on looking for scholarships as much as playing your hardest for the team you represent. Your main objective should be playing for the man next to you and not for any personal goals. All you got to do is play your hardest, and everything else will take care of itself.” 78