MOSCOW, Idaho – The most jarring memory of a turbulent upbringing came when Eddie Williams was 13. One day he returned from visiting his grandparents with his mother and sister to find their home ransacked.
Thieves had swiped almost everything, and what remained in the kitchen and elsewhere was scattered in a dizzying mess. Mayonnaise was on the ceiling. Flour could be seen everywhere.
They had been robbed before many times, but this was the worst.
“(There were) flour footprints leading to our neighbor’s house,” Williams said. “They were the ones that robbed us. (But) the police didn’t do much. It was a bad neighborhood. They didn’t care.”
Yes, Williams had a rugged existence in Vallejo, Calif., one that’s made a mountain of losses in his four years on the Idaho football team slightly more bearable.
Nothing, though, compared to what happened just before the start his freshman year of high school. After battling cervical cancer and watching it go into remission a few years before, his mother, Karyn Ramos, couldn’t fend off the disease a second time.
Her death in 2001 left Williams and his sister, Alyssa, with few options. Their father had been in and out of the picture, and no other relatives seemed interested in housing them.
Eventually, they moved in with Sylvia Bayona, a woman they knew as their aunt. In reality, she wasn’t related to them.
“Basically, their family didn’t want anything to do with them,” said Bayona, a longtime friend of Ramos and her mother. “… We’re the only family (they’ve) ever had. It’s really sad.”
Bayona, 62, furnished much-needed structure for Williams in her San Mateo, Calif., home. He had bounced around between six or seven elementary and middle schools with his mom trying to find the right job, so the structure was refreshing. With clear ground rules set, he went from being a marginal student to a regular on the honor roll.
Williams also found a niche as a running back/linebacker at Aragon High. Despite being viewed as a tad short (6-foot-1, 249 pounds), he was recruited by BYU, UNLV, San Jose State and other smaller schools.
None of those campuses had the small-town charm of Moscow.
“Here it’s like the school is the town,” Williams said, “and I thought that was pretty cool. And, obviously, I liked the coaches, too.”
Wooed by Nick Holt and his staff, Williams made an impact his freshman year. Then Holt bolted for USC, and soon Dennis Erickson came and went as well.
Finally in the second year of Robb Akey’s system, the H-back/tight end has blossomed into the Vandals’ most reliable pass-catching threat. Through five weeks of his senior season, he leads Idaho (1-4 entering Saturday’s home contest with Nevada) with 26 receptions. His total of 358 receiving yards is tops in the WAC.
Soft hands, a nimble frame and precise routes make Williams perhaps the Vandals’ most viable pro prospect.
“He plays full speed all the time,” Akey said. “He doesn’t like to come out for a single snap, and that includes practice. He practices that way. So, therefore, he earns his performance by the way he prepares himself.”
The football field has always been a safe haven for the personable team captain. When life turned chaotic in Northern California, he tuned out the problems by plopping on his pads and cleats.
Once he was in college, he unleashed the frustration of going through three head coaches and changing from linebacker to H-back, a hybrid position, before he even played a game as a Vandal.
Moving between tight end, receiver and fullback seems to fit Williams. While he doesn’t have great speed, he has enough power to shed defensive ends and drag defensive backs along in the open field.
“When we throw a ball out to him in the flat or on a hitch, you seldom see the first guy bring him down,” Akey said. “He makes a move and that guys misses. And then all the sudden, he’s 10 yards down the field and there’s maybe three or four bodies on him. … He’s got a strong, strong will.”
Much of his intensity was melded during those volatile years in Vallejo. Before he moved in with Bayona, Williams started to hang around gangs, she said. Just before his mother died, one of his friends was killed.
Those sorts of memories don’t easily fade over time.
“(With) my mom going through cancer and seeing what she went through has helped me kind of put life in perspective,” he said. “Understanding life’s real short and there’s a lot more important things, so you might as well as be doing things … right because you never know what can happen. You can end up not being alive.”