Tonight two Australians will face off in the ultimate game of college football. The Tide’s defensive lineman Jesse Williams was born on Thursday Island, Queensland, Australia, and grew up in the large metropolitan city of Brisbane. LSU’s punter Brad Wing grew up in the even larger urban sprawl of Melbourne. Thanks in part to Jesse’s outstanding success at Alabama, a new fanbase for American football is growing Down Under. For the first time ever, the title game will be broadcast with coverage from three Australian TV stations. ESPN radio analyst Brady Ackerman tweeted the Aussie reporters were all trying to understand why football is so important in America. An ESPN video produced by Australian TV highlights Jesse’s role at Alabama and tries to explain the magnitude of SEC football. His parents Arthur and Sonia Williams are awed by the Crimson Tide experience, but Jesse sums it up best. “It’s just followed like no other. People live and die the sport here, you know. Everyone just lives to watch Alabama play football here. It’s a good thing to have everyone behind you and all that support.”
So what led Jesse on his long path from Australia, through an Arizona junior college, to the Crimson Tide? The heart of a champion and the desire to forge a path few others from his country have taken.
Nick Saban sees life lessons in every individual challenge faced in football. Winning or losing is deeper than just the results. It’s about what you learn on the field of battle that shapes how you will approach the battles you face later in life.
Along the banks of the Warrior River in Tuscaloosa, Coach Saban’s message and the Crimson Tide’s winning tradition called out to this warrior from Down Under. Williams’ paternal grandfather is American, but his maternal family is descended from Aboriginal tribesmen. His warrior heritage is reflected in his intensity on the gridiron, including painting most of his face black to intimidate opposing players. It must work since the Tide’s defense is the nation’s #1 in all major defensive categories, especially rush defense where Jesse excels. In fact, he is the only player signed in the 2011 Alabama recruiting class to earn a starting spot on the Tide roster. He has fought through a nagging shoulder injury and improved his raw technique, once described by Saban as “boola-boola ball”, to be a playmaker his teammates can count on. Center William Vlachos says Williams never takes a play off and even when he’s banged up, he goes at full speed.
Jesse marks his body with tattoos in the old tradition of ancestors to keep his strengths uppermost in his mind and to remain humble on his path to success. Asked if it hurt to be inked so much, he channeled Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran: “no pain, no gain.” Just joking. He actually said, "Have you ever cut your neck before? About 100 times worse. Once you get used to it, it's not too bad.”
His favorite tattoo is the large one running down his right forearm which says “family”, an identical tattoo he shares with his Dad. Williams also treasures the one on his left upper arm, a poem by his Dad: "He grew into a proud young man, a determined breed he left his land. Put down his spear and hung up his shield, and became a warrior on the football field."
His most inspiring tattoos are the one on his right shoulder of a dhari, a Torres Straight tribal headdress, and the sprawling paragraph down his left forearm of excerpts from Coach John Flowers’ famous speech, ‘I Am A Champion’.
Now the Aussie warrior and his Tide teammates, battle tested and ready for the ultimate war in college football, will face off against the Bengal Tigers in the BCS National Championship game. And to commemorate the conflict when Bama beats LSU, he wants a new tattoo -- the national championship trophy.
Somewhere in New Orleans, Nick Saban just smiled.
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