Football didn’t appear to be part of Da’Mare Williams’ future as his ninth-grade year began in the fall of 2020 at Smoky Mountain High School in Sylva, NC.
Although older brother Montrell Turner had been the football team’s leading rusher in 2016-17, Williams’ mother was vehemently opposed to her younger son participating in the physical sport.
“I played football in recess, flag football, but that was about it,” Williams said. “I really wanted to try out my ninth grade year, but she wouldn’t let me do it. I didn’t go to any workouts. But then COVID hit.”
The impact of the COVID pandemic actually worked in Williams’ favor in regards to football. The high school season in North Carolina was pushed to the spring, which gave Williams and the Smoky Mountain coaches time to convince his mother to allow him to play.
“It was super hard,” Williams said. “The coaches had to call her and convince her. She finally gave in and now she’s my biggest fan.”
Three years later, Williams has evolved into a two-way star for the Mustangs and a major college football prospect. The 6-foot-2, 190-pounder has impressed enough to receive scholarship offers from Appalachian State, Charlotte, Connecticut, Marshall, Miami Ohio, Virginia Tech and Western Carolina. But it was the first school to show interest in Williams, East Carolina, that earned his verbal commitment on June 24 to become a member of the recruiting Class of 2024.
Despite his inexperience, Williams immediately displayed a natural talent for football in the spring of 2021. He racked up 80 yards rushing in his first game with the Smoky Mountain junior varsity and would eventually earn a promotion to the varsity later in the season.
Playing receiver and defensive back as a sophomore, he caught 16 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 179 yards and a score, made six tackles and an interception. It was soon after the Mustangs capped a 7-3 season that Williams had his first contact with East Carolina.
“It was December of my sophomore year,” Williams said. “Coach (Blake) Harrell (ECU defensive coordinator) came to my school, but I wasn’t there that day. He still shot me a follow on Twitter. He was the first coach to follow me on Twitter.”
Harrell and the Pirates had plenty of reasons to follow Williams on Twitter and the field last season. Williams enjoyed a breakout year, recording 61 receptions for 1,024 yards and 13 touchdowns on offense, while making 45 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three interceptions on defense. He had four games in which he had more than 100 yards receiving, highlighted by a six-catch, 191-yard effort against East Henderson.
The performance earned Williams a spot on the All-West 3-A Conference squad and a scholarship offer from East Carolina in February. Williams traveled to Greenville for an impactful official visit with the Pirates on June 22.
“I hung out with some of the players, and they were brutally honest with me about the program,” Williams said. “They loved it, and my family really loved it. That definitely cemented my commitment.”
One ECU player who made a strong impression on Williams was sophomore safety Jordan Huff, a junior college transfer who arrived in Greenville in January.
“(ECU safeties) Coach (Tripp) Weaver made some promises to me about if I’m going to play or not — I’m going to have to work my way up,” Williams said. “He made the same promises to Jordan. Jordan likes it and it’s happening for him. So, I just believe the same promises will come true for me, hopefully.”
Despite his talents on offense, Williams will start his career at ECU on defense as a safety.
“I think I’m an intelligent player,” Williams said, describing his strengths as a defender. “I watch a lot of film so I can tell what play is coming when they get into a certain formation.”
Williams is also blessed with speed. He’s also excelled in track and field at Smoky Mountain, specializing in the 110-meter hurdles and 100-meter dash. He was a regional qualifier in the 110 hurdles this spring before a hamstring injury sidelined him and he’s been timed at 11.7 over 100 meters.
The commitment from Williams was part of a wave of pledges secured by East Carolina between June 24 and July 3. The Pirates 13 commitments during that span and as of July 6 had 16 prospects pledged to the Class of 2024.
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