On a flight from Tampa back home to Los Angeles, it hit Thomas Williams that his football career had ended. After playing for six teams over the course of five years, the dream was over and he didn’t know what was next.
“I was a football player, just a football player,’’ Williams said. “What was I going to do now?’’
What Williams did immediately on that cross-country flight was start to jot down some notes about his career. How he had made it against the odds, and anything he could recall from both his days as a two-time national champion at the University of Southern California to being drafted by Jacksonville to his stays with Seattle, New England, Buffalo, Carolina and Tampa Bay.
That turned into a career as a motivational speaker which led to the publishing of his first book “Permission to Dream: I Can I Will I Did’’ which is flying off bookshelves as you read this.
“It’s taken a life of its own,’’ Williams said in a conversation on his way to another book signing/appearance. “It’s been great.’’
So how did those notes on a plane turn into Williams’ second career?
“I thought back to what I experienced on draft day,’’ Williams said. “Everyone should have that kind of experience in their life. What I felt the day I was drafted is like when people tell me what it was like when their children were born.’’
Williams was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft by Jacksonville which came as quite a surprise.
“I didn’t think I had a shot at getting drafted,’’ he said. “I only started 10 games in my college career. Fortunately I had great coaches in Pete Carroll and Ken Norton Jr. who just taught me to be relentless. Then for my dream to become a reality, that’s what I talk to people about now. It can happen for you, too.’’
Williams experienced what he calls “a roller coaster’’ career, going from team to team from practice squad to 53-man roster back to the practice squad and then back to the roster.
“I always stayed focused,’’ he said. “Through all of it, I was always focused on being a great player.’’
And like for so many players whose goal it is to make the final cut every summer, Williams never looked into his future.
“I couldn’t,’’ he said. “I never allowed myself to think beyond football.’’
But then at 27 years old and back in Los Angeles, his football career finished, he met with his new team led by publicist Kelly R. Pion-Capone.
“I took in everything they had to say,’’ Williams said. “They told me they could help me to become successful in my second career. They’re my greatest assets.’’
It wasn’t easy at first. The transition from player to former player never is.
“People I would see knew I was a player,’’ Williams said. “And they would ask me ‘who are you playing for’ I had to tell the truth and tell them I wasn’t playing any longer. I was here as a motivational speaker.’’
Williams’ speaking engagements cover a wide range from the U.S. Military to corporate executives to high school athletes and while his roots remain in Southern California his travels take him coast to coast.
“I love it. I really do,’’ Williams said. “I enjoy getting my message across to people and letting them know that their dreams can come true, too.’’
Although Williams never dreamt he would write a book, the author is as proud of that as he was being drafted by the Jaguars back in 2008.
“I thought after college I wouldn’t write anything again,’’ Williams said. “Then, as I was speaking to different groups, I thought why not share my story and the obstacles I overcame. Hopefully, it will be helpful.’’
Williams started writing the book his first year out of the game and it helped him through his transition.
“There’s a lot you miss, your teammates for one,’’ Williams said. “But your body is begging you to get ready. Your body knows when it’s time to start and it’s expecting to be out there. That adrenaline starts to flow. I couldn’t sleep at first, because my body wasn’t ready.
“So I started writing the book, and that helped. But I’ll be honest, as I was writing it I never thought I would finish it.’’
The book was published and was in bookstores and on line in early August.
“This was the best,’’ Williams said. “Nothing I’ve done compares to this, it’s the greatest thing in my 29 years.’’