Travis Williams was celebrating the start of a new year in his home state of Florida, when a gun was held to his head and he was forced to hand over his wallet.
“That’s how it was growing up there,” the veteran Spokane Shock defensive back said. “A lot of nights I got through thanking God I was still alive. A lot of gunshots.”
Perhaps Williams’ unfortunate start to 2012 triggered his belief in this concept: Football is big, but life is bigger. So excuse Williams if he doesn’t put too much stock in the fact that he wasn’t exactly a fan favorite when he helped the Shock to the Arena Football League’s 2010 ArenaBowl championship.
There’s no doubt fans will recognize the inked-up Williams – whether they hate to love him, or love to hate him. He’s one of a handful of veterans that the Shock brought back from an old team, and he’ll be relied on to lead the Shock’s secondary corps this season.
The Shock nation jeered Williams from the stands – at times crossing the line from taunting to downright offensive remarks – and took to the message boards to pen their feelings.
Williams had a slow start that season and was deemed a liability – too much of a risk-taker – by fans. That stems from misunderstanding the indoor game.
“If he gives up four touchdowns and stops two, he’s more than done his job – he’s done it well,” Shock coach Andy Olson said. “You have to be able to take risks in the position he’s playing. I think he’s doing really well and hopefully the fans will see that.”
By the end of 2010, there was no arguing that the 5-foot-10, 190-pound Williams’ risk-taking instincts turned into rewards for Spokane. Williams finished with 75.5 tackles and broke up 21 passes and intercepted six.
Williams said he had some feedback from NFL teams following the Shock’s championship run, but the lockout went into effect. So he turned to the Canadian Football League and spent most of the season on the practice squad for the BC Lions.
He appeared in a pair of games by the end of the season, but an ankle injury limited his mobility in defensive back drills and he was released shortly thereafter.
“That was a big blow to me because my career was on the rise, and then I had a step back,” Williams said. “But it made me stronger … and now I’m back here.”
Technically speaking, he’s back.
There’s a faint notion that all the settling down he’s done off the football field makes it feel like he’s just arrived.
He’s engaged, and when he’s not pushing to make a career out of football, he’s drawing his backup designs in the auto sales industry – admitting that he had second thoughts about returning to the AFL this season.
He’s also more comfortable in his skin, which is covered in tattoos.
“I stopped counting a long time ago,” he said. “When people ask what race I am, I tell them I’m green. All ink.”
The tattoo he sees everyday that reminds him of the bigger picture wraps partially around his neck: YOLO.
“You only live once,” he offered as explanation. “I don’t have to worry about the distractions like I used to. I can just go about my business and live my life. I try and lead by example on and off the field now.
“Most people might see me as cocky or arrogant, but I was just raised to speak my mind. … The (fans) don’t really care about me as a person. But I do. Making plays – that’s easy.
“I’m used to worrying about bigger things – like bad people trying to hurt me. That’s why I got this tattoo on my neck.”