If A.L. Williams hadn't threatened to hitchhike back to Ruston from Baton Rouge, he may have ended up a Tiger.
Coming out of high school as a highly-recruited player, Williams told the whole world he wanted to be a Bulldog, but that didn't stop two assistant coaches from LSU from practically dragging him to Baton Rouge for an official visit one weekend. When he was still in Baton Rouge the following Wednesday, Williams packed his bags and threatened to hitchhike back to Ruston.
If he hadn't hitchhike, Louisiana Tech may not have won two Gulf States Conference championships when he played. And Tech may not have won the Southland Conference title and reached the Division I-AA national championship game in 1984 when he coached.
To Williams the decision to come to Tech was a no-brainer.
"It was a great honor and a lot of fun. I loved it here," Williams said. "I wouldn't have gone anywhere else if I had the opportunity. You can't imagine the family atmosphere, and not just the football team but the university and the community."
Williams was a two-sport star at Tech as he also lettered in track, running in relays and competing in the long and triple jumps.
On the football field, Williams was a star for the Bulldogs. He led Louisiana Tech in scoring his final three years while also leading the Gulf States Conference in scoring as a senior.
Williams easily remembers those times. He talks about his playing days like they were yesterday. He can list the starting offensive line and tell you where his high school teammates played college ball. And he speaks of legendary coach Joe Aillet still as a father figure and inspiration.
"Tech was like a second home to a lot of us," Williams said. "Coach Aillet was so far ahead of his time. I was so fortunate to play for him. People just didn't know another coach like him. He was brilliant. If you came through Ruston, you stopped to see him."
After a successful playing career, Williams went into coaching where he became one of the leaders in the evolution of the passing game. He earned national recognition at Woodlawn High School in Shreveport where he coached for 14 years, including the final eight as the head coach.
He led Woodlawn to a mark of 64-25 while winning four district titles and the 1968 state title with Joe Ferguson as his quarterback. He also mentored Terry Bradshaw, Billy Laird and John Booty.
Ruston Daily Leader sports editor Buddy Davis has covered Tech for more than 50 years and said Williams was the authority on throwing the football.
"Of all the guys I've talked to over the years, if you want to learn about a quarterback and what makes a good quarterback, A.L.'s the guy to talk to," Davis said. "He's an extremely sharp, intelligent, guru of quarterbacking, more so than that he?s just one of the good guys in sports. Everybody loves A.L. because he's always got a smile on his face."
One coaching technique Williams used was having his high school quarterbacks throw the javelin during the spring for track and field to help strengthen their arms for throwing the football. Bradshaw was the first Williams experimented with, and he actually set the national record in the javelin, a record that was just recently broken.
Davis verified Williams' memory and ability to remember specific plays in specific games. If you want to be entertained for hours, give Williams a call.
He will not disappoint.
"If I'm ever in a mood for a good sports story, I would talk to A.L.," Davis said. "His memory is vivid on details about certain games, certain plays. You could ask him to tell you about the big game Bradshaw had his junior year at Woodlawn, and he'd know what game you're talking about and tell you the score and probably how many plays they ran."
Former teammate and fellow Tech legend Tommy Hinton said Williams will always be considered one of the greatest ever to don the Blue and Red.
"It was an honor and a pleasure to be a teammate of A.L. Williams in both football and track. He was always pleasant, positive and upbeat. In football, with his exceptional speed, he was a scoring threat at all times from anywhere on the field," Hinton said. "He was one of the best that I have ever seen at returning both punts and kickoffs. As a proud member of Tech's Athletic HOF, I'm honored to be joined by my old teammate and good friend."
In 1974 Williams moved to the college ranks with a stint at Northwestern State, but eventually found himself looking for a job in business. Interviewing for jobs outside football there was only one school he considered coaching at, and Tech just happened to call.
He was told expectations were low and losing seasons were likely in the works for the next three or four years.
"After that first year, I said, gosh they might be right," Williams said.
The Bulldogs went 4-7 their first year under Williams, but the second saw major improvement ahead of schedule by winning the conference title and playing for a national championship.
"Those kids worked so hard. We were supposed to come in fourth in the conference," he said. "Those types of teams will always be special. They overachieved and it was fun. It was certainly rewarding."
Rewarding was reaching the 1984 Division I-AA national championship game against Montana State where Tech fell 19-6. However, in the process of getting there, the Bulldogs defeated the passing attack of Mississippi Valley State that featured Jerry Rice by the score of 66-19. Playing games like that and experiencing the excitement of the I-AA playoffs has Williams preaching today about a playoff for the highest level of college football.
"It's frustrating to me that the I-A people don't have a 16-team playoff if you want to do it right and have a true winner," said Williams, who registered a 28-19-1 mark as the Bulldogs head coach with three winning seasons. "We loved it. You had to win four more games. We played Mississippi Valley, and they were supposed to crush us. That was a fun game."
Whether he gets his wish of a playoff is yet to be determined. But one thing that is for sure is his legacy as a player and coach at Tech will forever be considered one of the greatest as a Louisiana Tech Hall of Famer.
"I don't know how I fit with all the others up there, but I am certainly honored," Williams said. "I never expected to be there, but I am proud to be there. It is a great honor to me, and I will cherish it forever."
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