Behind the face mask with Bart Williams

GVL / Sheila Babbitt Football game vs Michigan Tech on September 22, 2018.

GVL / Sheila Babbitt Football game vs Michigan Tech on September 22, 2018.

Brady McAtamney

The Grand Valley State football team is off to a dominant start during the 2018 football season after ripping off four straight wins. Much of that success can be attributed to the play of quarterback Bart Williams, who has thrown for 1,038 yards and 13 touchdowns with zero interceptions. 

As is the case with everybody, though, there is more to the new all-time school record holder in pass touchdowns. I took some time out of my day to hang out with the school’s four-year starter and talk about more than just what’s happening on the field.

What would happen if 2018 Bart Williams had a chance to meet 2010 Bart Williams? What would you say to him?

That’s a good question. I think I would say, like, trust your instinct. I think I did a good job. Looking back, it’s my sixth year here. I’m very fortunate and surprised that I did make the right decision to come here for college because I was definitely the guy who in school who wanted to play big time Division I. I thought I had to potential and talent to do it and it didn’t work out for me, but I do remember in the process just thinking too that there was something special about Grand Valley. Even though I did follow the advice, that’s still something I’d say, to just embrace it and make the most out of the opportunities, which is something I could have done a little bit better in high school, too. I kinda look back, and, you have one chance to do everything in life but there’s probably a few things. 2010; that would have been my… sophomore year of high school starting. There were probably some things I could have done to embrace being a high school student athlete a little bit better, some things that I could change back then.”

On the flip side of that, what would 2010 Bart say to 2018 Bart? What would he think of meeting this guy who’s got a record now and has won a lot of DII games? What would that guy think of you?

“I would think proud. Like, just proud of what you’ve accomplished, how much work has gone in. There’s been a lot of adversity throughout the process to get to where I am today. I’m here for six years because I had an injury, getting through that and all those winter conditioning sessions. I remember heading back for winter break my freshman year, heading back home, hanging out at home for a couple of weeks and being dreadful that, you know, coming back to winter conditioning in a place where you haven’t been established yet. You don’t have the rep that you had in high school and getting through all that instead of taking it head-on, trying to weasel your way through it, I think 2010 Bart would be very proud not just of where I am today but the things that it took to put myself in the position that I’m in.”

When you’re not at practice, doing football things or even not in class, what are you doing?

“Probably hanging out with my girlfriend. We’ve got a place over in the northeast side of Grand Rapids. I spend a lot of time watching Netflix, playing with our dog, doing things of that nature. And then, also, golfing. In the summer, I’m a golf fanatic. I go out and try to be on the links as much as possible while I’m still spending time with my girlfriend and putting the work in to my next question.”

What are you walking on Netflix right now?

“I’m watching The Hundred. It’s actually been a really good show. Cole Kotopka put me onto it, and Nate Barko, our two other quarterbacks. It’s been good. She was watching it mostly – it was a typical story about an autistic kid in high school. It was a pretty interesting show, I think there’s only two seasons of it though. I didn’t watch that fully, but I was in the room, probably playing Clash of Clans while she’s watching it, tuning in every once in a while. Then, before camp started, we watched two of the seasons of Last Chance U. We watched the third season together, I hadn’t seen it, then we re-watched the first season which she hadn’t seen before. And then there was a new one; QB1: Beyond the Lights. Tate Martell, Jake Fromm and the kid from Wake Forest. I forget his name. We watched that, it was a good season. It showed them in high school and how they got to college.”

You said you like golfing. What’s the best score you’ve ever had?

“The best golf I’ve played was probably the last round I played this summer out here at The Meadows. Shot a 75. It was a good round. I was one-under on the front and then four-over on the back. I played a couple good rounds. That’s my second 75 there at Meadows but the first one was from the white tees, that was from the blue tees so it was a little bit tougher. I shot another 75 out at Kaufman. I’m a lefty golfer.”

I was going to ask you what your favorite sport to play is outside of football, so if that golf?

“Golf, yeah. I mean, it’s kind of faded because I haven’t had a chance to, but in high school I was a four-year varsity basketball player. I was a hooper before I played football, so basketball was really my first love, and I didn’t change over to football until late in my high school career.”

Which position did you play?

“Small forward. Typically, I’d play outside on the offensive side of the ball – offensive side of the ball, like it’s football – when we were on offense. Then on defense, I’d typically guard one of the post players. We had another guy who was like, opposite of me. It worked pretty well.”

You’ve been here a little while. You’ve played with a lot of good receivers, a lot of good running backs, a lot of guys around you – a lot of good linemen, especially this year. What kind of relationships do you have with those guys?

“I think this year’s unique just because me and Dylan Carroll and then Thad Little are the only players that came in in 2013 that are still here. Thad even transferred out for a little bit and then ended up finding his way back to Grand Valley. My relationship, I was really good friends with Nick Keizer and Garrett Pougnet and Kyle Short, some of those guys from that class. Now that they’re gone, I’m kind of friends with the guys that are younger than me. That was one of my goals this year too, was that because everyone I was really tight with is gone, to develop some realtionships, to make sure my face is still around. We’ve always had a really good relationship in the quarterback room. Me and Cole Kotopka have been having a lot of fun together down here with football, hanging out outside of football as well. Nate Barko, again, just fun. He’s a redshirt freshman, fun having the young guy in there. We kind of pick on him a little bit. He’s a good sport about it. Then you just go to some guys. I think like Austin Paritee, Nick Dodson, Brandon Wadley – you have an automatic mutual respect for someone just because of their performance on the field and then, automatically, you gain respect for that person and it’s easier to develop a relationship with them. I think that’s one good thing, too, about fall camp. We get two weeks where we’re living in the dorms together. Nobody has a car, you’re eating every meal with your teammates, you’re walking down to the football center with your teammates. There are a lot of guys that I got closer with that I hadn’t necessarily gone out of my way to make conversation with in the past. I think this team has a very unique dynamic to it. The locker room is always friendly. You’ve got different guys in different spots being social and I think it’s a really good team. I’m really proud of the dynamic that we have socially as well as on the field.”

So would you consider yourself a guy in the locker room that people like to be around?

“Oh yeah, I don’t think anyone doesn’t want to be around me. There’s definitely guys who have a lot more fun than me in the locker room. Your Calvin Graves, Rahju Blackmon, the o-line, they’re always doing their own stupid things, but yeah. I like to chomp it up with those guys and add them into conversation when I can.”

Do you have anything in the locker room that guys are often doing or often saying? Any traditions or inside things that you like to do?

Big Cal (Graves) and Big Dave (David Dawson) probably are the funniest dudes in the locker room together. They somehow come up with conversation, make voices and it’s the most ridiculous thing. If you were to be a fly on the wall, you’d just have absolutely no idea what’s going on. That’s always fun to be a part of and, conveniently, my locker is basically right in between theirs or at least in the vicinity, so I can always catch a glimpse of that. Other than that, some other o-line stuff that they’re always doing. That’s always a good time.”

Back to golf, did you follow Tiger Woods this past weekend?

I didn’t follow him all the way through. I did, before the game, I was getting taped up and I did notice it was on and he was like five shots in the lead and I was super excited for him. Then I was happy to see he finished it off on Sunday. I worked over at a golf shop in Grandville in the offseason, I know a lot of those guys were pulling for him. I was happy. Back in Grand Blanc, there used to be a PGA Tour event at Warwick Hills Country Club and when I was little I remember seeing Tiger coming to Grand Blanc and playing. I’ve always been a Tiger Woods fan ever since he’s gone through his stuff and came back, I’ve always been pulling for him. He’s come close a lot this year and it was good to see him take the crown.”

You mentioned you worked at a golf shop. When you’re just working everyday jobs like that, have you ever gotten noticed?

“Yeah, I have. A couple times. A lot of people think that it’d happen more than it does, it doesn’t happen too often. A lot of times it’s in conversation like ‘oh, what are you doing?’ ‘I go to Grand Valley’ ‘oh, you play a sport?’ ‘yeah, I play football’ and they’re like ‘what position do you play’ and I tell them and they say ‘oh, you’re Bart!’ and I’m just like ‘yeah’. That’s most of it, it’s mostly not ‘hey, that’s that guy’. It was a lot of fun working there, just engaging in conversation, direct selling golf clubs, golf equipment to people. Just kind of getting engaged in those conversations and meeting new people, there was just a couple times. Not every single day.”

Back to old Bart vs new Bart, what’s the difference between long-haired Bart and short-haired Bart?

“Oh yeah. That’s a good question. I think long-hair Bart was a lot more carefree. I think that’s, again, another one of the goals I was trying to get back to. This year, sometimes, in sports, if you analyze things and think about them too much, you might know exactly what’s going on and the performance might not indicate it because you’re too worried about what’s happening instead of doing what you should be doing. That’s one thing I’m trying to do this year. In the quarterback room, Coach (Vitzthum) drew it up. It was perfect. It was called the ‘I Don’t’ Care Meter’. It was a different word, but ‘I Don’t Care Meter’. We put 2015 Bart all the way over here as ‘I don’t care, I’m just gonna throw it’ and 2016 Bart was about right in the middle and 2017 Bart was here. I’m trying to get 2018 Bart in the middle of 2016 and 2015 Bart. Decent balance of hey, just go out there and let it fly, you know what you’re doing, there’s no reason to overthink some things, just believe in your arm talent, believe in the guys around you, just let it fly. I think I’ve kinda gotten back to that this year, but doing it a lot smarter than 2015 Bart who threw 20 interceptions.”

That’s all I’ve got, any shout outs or anything?

“I will say, one thing I always end up doing in interviews, I always forget to do… shout out that o-line, but those two running backs, Jack (Provencher) and Chawntez (Moss), they deserve props for this year. Not even on the map of probably playing for the 2018 team, if you were to rewind back to December of last year, those guys have just grinded it out every single game. They’ve done so many different things, finishing runs, they just care, they know what they’re doing. Great football players. Those guys deserve a big shout out.” 

Anything Dylan Carroll here wants to say?

“I just wanted to say I beat Bart in golf this summer.”

Williams claims to have given Carroll a multiple-stroke advantage. The story is still developing.