Students Rising AboveBy Christin Ayers

(KPIX 5) — When we first met Eddie Williams, he was a teenage football star with big dreams of playing for the NFL. But Williams’ soft-spoken ways belied a maturity gained through unspeakable hardship.

Unbeknownst to those around him, Williams was coping with the kinds of problems that might have crushed others. His father was not involved with the family and his mother passed away from cancer when Williams was in middle school. It was a situation the teenaged Williams seemed to take in stride back when he first spoke with Students Rising Above while in high school.

LEARN MORE: Students Rising Above

“To me it seems like all these things happening, you’re learning about life a little bit earlier than you should have to,” said Williams then. “You just want to go out and play with your friends and ride your bike.”

Flash forward to 2019 – Williams was the featured speaker at the Students Rising Above annual gala at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in San Francisco. During his keynote address, Williams reflected on the difficult times he experienced while growing up, and the promise he made to his mother before she passed away.

“I promised my mother before she died that I would go to college,” Williams recalled for the audience. “I’d work hard and then I promised her, looked her dead in the eye and told her I’m going to go play in the NFL.”

It was a promise he would fulfill. After graduation from the University of Idaho, Williams was drafted into the NFL in 2009. He played for various teams, and says he was proud of his success and time in the League.  But as Williams told the students gathered at the gala, he felt something was missing.

“Finding success and finding purpose are not the same thing,” explained Williams. “As fun as the NFL was, I realized we as human beings need transcendent purpose in order to thrive.”

It was then Williams decided to give his life to God. He turned from the playing field to the pulpit. He now spends his Sundays at San Francisco’s Bay City Church, a young church with a young congregation.

Williams is Bay City’s proud Senior Pastor, counseling the congregation that “Jesus must come into you and change you from within.” With his words, Williams says he hopes to inspire a new generation of young people to give their lives in service to others. Williams also hopes to see his fledgling church grow in the same way that he has grown, with the help of Students Rising Above.

“To know where I’ve come from,” said Williams. “I’m married and have kids now and to see our family flourish and see the role that SRA has played, it’s magical, it’s amazing.”