NORTH CANTON — For as long as he can remember, Keith Williams has always had football.
After the news he received Friday, that mainstay in his life is in jeopardy.
The Highland graduate was informed by phone that Division II Malone University was discontinuing the football program as part of a restructuring process designed to eliminate $2.5 million of structural deficit over the next two years.
It came as a shock to Williams and his teammates, most of whom were told by school officials after a morning workout. Williams found out from fellow redshirt junior Lamon Mathison in a phone call, and in a host of emails sent by the school to players and staff members, as he worked an internship with Ernst & Young in Cleveland.
“It felt like it was out of nowhere,” he said. “It was a shock, for sure. I’ve done four years (at Malone) and I had a big thought about coming back next year and playing (as a fifth-year senior), but now I see that it’s not possible.
“So now it’s like, ‘Hey, do I want to chase football for another team or do I just want to buckle down, finish school and then move on with the work life.’”
Williams, who redshirted as a freshman, was a key contributor for the Pioneers on special teams and defense at outside linebacker and defensive end.
The 6-foot-1, 215-pounder, an All-Gazette selection and key member of Highland’s state runner-up team in 2013, had 50 tackles over his first two college seasons but played just five games last fall after popping his left shoulder and partially tearing his biceps in a game against Tiffin.
After entering the offseason with the hopes of getting back to 100 percent and finishing his playing career strong, Williams now has questions of where and if that will happen.
“I’ve played football my whole life. I love football,” he said. “I do want to keep playing, but I’ve had a lot of problems with my shoulder and that’s a big factor going into it. I’m still having doctors looking at it in case something else is wrong, so it’s been a long process and that’s really weighing on me, as well, but the passion for football is still there.”
Williams will be finishing his internship this spring, but still needs a couple of accounting classes to complete his degree, which Malone will not offer next school year. He is considering going to D-I Akron to finish those classes, and maybe look into walking on to the team, but is also looking into D-III Baldwin Wallace and John Carroll.
“Knowing I still have another year, there would be regret if I didn’t take it,” Williams said. “Football has really been my life. I think the biggest thing from it is just the experience.
“There’s adversity thrown at you, different plays on the field, and it’s a team sport. I’m an accountant and I will be going into the auditing field, and there is a lot of teamwork there. I think that football has helped me with that, because I’ve always been with a team. Now after college, I can take experiences from that to help me grow.”