Football: From 1A to D-I, Nederland’s Stu Williams gets kicks at Wyoming

  • University of Wyoming Photo Service

    Former Nederland standout Stu Williams, right, kicks during the Cowboys' game against Toledo earlier this fall.

  • University of Wyoming Photo Service

    Stu Williams

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Stu Williams understood the long odds.

He was a walk-on at a Division-I program. He came from a small high school, and not one necessarily known for football. Nederland, after all, plays in Class 1A and sometimes struggles to find enough kids to fill out a squad.

But a peek at the depth chart at Wyoming reveals the remarkable story. Williams is the starting place kicker for the Cowboys.

After persevering through a redshirt season and a freshman year with only scant opportunities, Williams spent the summer in Boulder tirelessly honing his skills.

“Then I came back here and all my hard work just paid off,” Williams said. “I was having consistent kicks with consistent height, and they were going through the uprights.”

The job became open after Wyoming incumbent kicker Daniel Sullivan had a medical issue during the summer and was sidelined for the season. Williams seized his chance.

Nederland coach Aaron Jones is unabashedly proud. Coaches can’t ask for a better motivational tool than a former pupil making it big.

“I’m not surprised,” Jones said. “If anything, I’m surprised it took this long for him to get in there. The kid is just good at everything he does. At first, I thought he was just lucky, but the more time I spent around him the more I realized he is just good.”

Jones often played hockey and curling with Williams during the Nederland winters and, according to Jones, Williams excelled greatly at both. He terms Williams “a mountain kid to his core” and remains in regular communication with his former player.

Williams’ father, Steven, often passes along photos. Jones shows them off at Panthers’ practices.

“He’s an inspiration to us,” Jones said. “And when we play well, we hope we’re an inspiration to him. Even though that hasn’t happened enough this season.”

The feelings are reciprocal.

Williams is too grounded, too genuine to move on to bigger things and ignore his past.

“Aaron and I talk about once a week,” Williams said. “He gives me some great advice, and we talk about how each other is doing, how the Nederland Panthers are doing. That’s high in my book because I don’t want to forget where I came from.”

After graduating from Nederland in 2009 and redshirting in 2010, he appeared in two games with Cowboys last season and drilled all six of his extra-point attempts.

This season, he’s gone 4 for 5 on field goals and 8 for 10 on extra points (both extra-point misses were blocked). Ultimately, his lone missed field goal wasn’t costly. It came in the Cowboys’ lone win this season, a 40-37 overtime decision against Idaho on Sept. 22.

“He’s been really consistent,” Wyoming special teams coach Robin Ross said. “Last week was the first field goal he’d missed, but I’m sure he’ll pick things up right after the bye.”

Williams wasn’t needed in the OT win. After Idaho kicked a field goal to go up 37-34, Wyoming won it with a touchdown reception by Jalen Claiborne. Williams, though, was ready to go if called upon in the pressure situation.

“I was warming up in the net and kind of isolated myself from the rest of the team,” he said. “I was trying to do the in-the-moment type of thing and just keep my emotions in check.”

According to Jones, Willams has continued to kick despite a stress fracture in his kicking foot. Williams, also listed as the backup punter, isn’t yet handling kickoffs. Those duties belong to Justin Martin.

“Stuart’s leg strength is good, not great,” Ross said. “The big thing is his accuracy.”

Williams also was a cornerback and receiver at Nederland, but he has no delusions of grandeur about trying to play those positions at the Division-I level.

“It’s pretty much a kicker-all-the-time mentality,” Williams said. “As a corner, I wouldn’t be fast enough or strong enough. I’ve just worked on kicking because that’s my focus and that’s the way it’s going to remain.”

Follow Paul on Twitter: @PaulWillis21