Thornridge’s DuVaughn Williams knew how it looked from the outside.
The Falcons were coming off a 2-7 season under Stafford Owens, their third coach in three seasons, and had one playoff berth since 2006.
Williams, an unusual hybrid of an athlete who was starting at quarterback and defensive end, had played only one full game as a junior before being sidelined by a broken tibia.
“I really feel like I had something to prove,” Williams said. “Everybody was doubting us because we were ‘just Thornridge,’ That’s how we are to people, we’re just ‘Thornridge.’”
That’s changing though, and Williams is a big reason why.
The Falcons have avenged 2019 losses to Bloom and District 205 rival Thornton, with Williams completing 58% of his passes for 822 yards with 10 touchdowns and no interceptions through four weeks.
On the other side of the ball, he had 18 tackles and three sacks.
At 6-4 and 225 pounds, Williams certainly has the size to play both quarterback and defensive end at the high school level. But it’s not something you’d expect to see, even if Owens says it makes some sense.
“I played in the (Mid-American) Conference with some big guys just like him: (Ben) Roethlisberger, (Byron) Leftwich,” said Owens, who was a running back and receiver at Ohio. “(Williams) kind of reminds me of them. Both of those guys could have played some ‘D’ too.”
It was no guarantee that Williams would play defensive end, quarterback or anywhere after that injury in 2019.
He was sidelined for six months, coming back just days before the pandemic shut down sports in March, 2020.
“I was taking it little by little, step by step,” Williams said. “Doing little stuff with my (physical) therapist. Just learning how to walk and ... running three or four miles on the treadmill, trying to get my bone back into running shape.”
Then came the lockdown. Williams lost access to his training facilities and had to improvise.
“I couldn’t get into the school and everything was shutting down,” he said. “At my house I built a little training course for myself. ... I bought whatever weights I could and I just did home workouts, whatever I could to keep myself in shape.”
Owens had been Williams’ basketball coach at the lower levels before he took over the football job. He wasn’t surprised by Williams’ perseverance.
“DuVaughn is a tough kid,” Owens said, “He always had that heart.”
That kept him going during the long months when it looked like he might not get a senior season.
“It was frustrating because we had a whole lot riding on our season,” Williams said. “But I knew I had to keep a level head and focus on doing my part, on being the best person I could be. Focus on being a student-athlete, getting my grades right, doing well at school.”
Now he’s doing well on the football field too, and making people think twice about overlooking the team that used to be “just Thornridge.”