Few college football stories can match that of Mineral Wells Coach Matt Williams.
In 2008, Williams was just a face in the Texas Tech Red Raider’s crowd and went from winning six months free rent in a field-goal kicking contest to being the subject of headlines in newspapers across the country as the team’s new kicker.
It’s a true story that sounds like it was spun by the most creative minds in Hollywood, and who knows one day it just might hit the big screen as a movie titled “The Matt Williams Story – A Kick to Glory.”
If it does make the big screen, the movie’s trailer might go along these lines.
Scene one, Weatherford High School kicker beats rival Mineral Wells with a 30-yard kick after sending the game into overtime with a 49-yard field goal.
Scene two, hoping he is bound for football glory, Williams ends up not kicking at nearby Tarleton State University and decides to leave his gridiron dreams behind to further his education.
Scene three features Williams at a Red Raiders’ game and the longing to play the game still an ember in his heart as he is plucked from the crowd at random and boots a 30-yard field goal in front of 55,000 fans.
Scene four, Williams is talking to head coach Mike Leach on the sidelines, and he wants Williams to come to see him on Monday “so they can see how things work out.” Williams tells a reporter, “maybe I will be kicking for Tech one of these days.”
Scene five, Oct. 25, 2008, Williams’ first PAT kick splits the uprights behind the Red Raider’s line just like his next eight kicks do in the game against Kansas. The following week he kicks his first college field goal of in a 39-33 win over Texas and adds a second as insurance.
In the trailer’s final scene, Williams is carried off the field in a Rudy-like manner on the shoulders of his teammates.
It would make for great Hollywood, but in reality, it was just the start of Williams’ college football journey, and he walked off the field and into the beginning of a storied kicking career.
Williams would play two and-a-half seasons as a Red Raider and go on to make 149-150 PATs and 81.6 percent of his field goals his senior year.
In 2009, Williams’ 93 points led the Red Raiders’ scoring, and he ranked fifth overall in the Big 12 conference. His career includes scoring in the Cotton, Alamo, and the Ticket City bowls.
A stroke of luck got Williams into a Red Raider uniform, and it was his hard work and dedication that kept him in one.
“I had always been very good at blocking out what was going on around me,” Williams said, “The contest kick, it was no different to me than the kicks I made against Mineral Wells in high school.”
Williams drilled a 49-yard field goal to send the Mineral Wells game into overtime and booted the game-winner from “35 or so yards out,” drawing on the skills taught to him by his father, who served as his kicking coach from an early age.
“I started playing soccer when I was three or four years old, and that was the only sport I played until my dad (Tommy) suggested I try kicking a football when I was in junior high,” Williams said.
It was a natural transition, and by his senior year, Williams was making big kicks like the ones he made against Mineral Wells. He had proven he had the leg power and mental toughness it takes to go to the next level.
When schools didn’t come calling Williams’ father hit the road himself and promoted his son to schools. That move ended up helping Williams get onto the Texas Tech team earlier than expected because Tarleton didn’t recruit him, but more on that later.
Williams’ career at Tarleton didn’t go as planned because Texan kicker Garrett Lindholm had already solidified himself at the position, and Lindholm would cap his career with a Lone Star Conference record 64-yard field goal.
Way down on the depth chart and suffering “burnout,” Williams made a tearful decision as he decided to hang up his football cleats while still keeping fit by playing club soccer at Tarleton.
After two years at Tarleton and with his brother Randy at Texas Tech, Williams made up his mind to further his education in Lubbock.
It was at Tech’s game against the University of Massachusetts where fate struck, and Williams entered a drawing where the winner was selected to attempt a field goal with the prize being a half year’s rent.
“That’s one of the things to clear up,” Williams said. “I’ve read a year, five years, and other periods but it was for six months.”
The kick didn’t go unnoticed by Coach Leach, and before Williams could get off the field, a strength and conditioning coach caught up with him.
“I was on the phone with my parents, and he said ‘coach wants to talk with you,’ so I hung up the phone and followed him,” Williams said.
Instead of waiting until after the game for an expected congratulations from Leach, Williams found himself on sidelines during the contest talking about becoming the team’s kicker.
Reporters and cameras surrounded the two men as Leach said Williams looked “pretty cool-headed out there.”
“He told me that they had been having troubles with their kicking game, and I told him I had noticed that,” Williams said. “He asked me if I had ever thought about trying out, and I told him I had thought about it in the fall, but they didn’t have tryouts. He told me I should drop by on Monday, and we could talk about a tryout. I said that I would do it.”
As he lay awake that night in bed, Williams went over his options that included giving up six months free rents, which he had already thought about subletting for the extra money because he already had an apartment. At the same time, here was the potential opportunity of a lifetime for Williams with a tryout to become the Red Raiders’ starting placekicker.
It turned out making the team was no problem because, in Leach’s mind, he had already found his new kicker.
“When I showed up Monday, they told me they were ready to get me fitted for a helmet and uniform,” Williams said. “Coach Leach told me my tryout was when I walked out in shorts and a ball cap in front of 55,000 people and kicked that field goal.”
There wasn’t going to be a tryout, Williams was a Red Raider football player with the only thing holding him off the field, a review of his eligibility because he had been on Tarleton’s roster.
While it took nearly a month, a special one-time exemption was granted by the NCAA because of Williams’ father and his earlier efforts to get his son into Tarleton. TSU didn’t make the first move and never recruited Williams, and because he didn’t play for the Texans, it was determined he was eligible immediately following the review.
As Texas Tech waited for Williams’ eligibility review to finish, there was a national media storm about “Leach’s attention grab,” and how it was just a move was to get some headlines.
Sports personalities like Skip Bayless were calling it a “publicity stunt,” and they were saying no “frat boy” was going to walk on and solve the Red Raiders’ kicking problems.
By this time Williams was now known by the nickname “Lynnwood” because of Lynnwood Townhomes’ sponsorship of the field goal contest, and he was catching grief in the stands because fans wanted “that Lynnwood guy they pulled out of the stands on the field” as Tech kept up its bad habit of missing PAT kicks.
“Reading the articles about how it was a stunt only motivated me to go out and prove to people that I could do it,” Williams said.
As the calendar rolled around to the Raiders’ game against Kansas, the “frat boy” finally got his chance, and he passed his test with flying colors as Williams went 9-for-9 on extra-point kicks. He didn’t have the opportunity to kick a field goal, but it was the first game of the season where Tech made all of its boots. Williams went on to a perfect 33-of-33 kicking extra points for the year.
Williams had proven to the entire country that he wasn’t a fluke and that Leach knew talent and poise when he saw it. The next week, he cemented his role with the Red Raiders as he kicked two of his most memorable field goals against Texas.
“Those were certainly two of my most memorable kicks because of the atmosphere of that game, and every point counted for us to get the win,” Williams said. “I knew after I made that first kick that I was going to be all right. I was worried because I still wasn’t in kicking shape, so I was glad it was a short (29 yards) kick.”
There were other highlights like a game-winning 43-yard kick against Colorado his senior year and, of course, playing alongside athletes like quarterback Graham Harrell and wide receiver Michael Crabtree and getting to see the players like Texas’ Colt McCoy were perks, too.
Just because he was an instant success didn’t mean he was going to stay the number-one kicker, and Williams buckled down and absorbed the information his coaches were giving him.
He only got to attempt three field goals his first season before becoming the team’s scoring leader the next year with 11-of-14 field goals and 60-of-61 PAT for 93 points. He would miss only one PAT in his career, and that was because of a bobbled snap when the holder didn’t his guide hand out of the way soon enough resulting in Williams’ kick hitting the crossbar.
In his senior year, Williams made 9-of-11 of his field-goal attempts and rounded out his career with another perfect PAT season hitting of all 56 of his kicks.
Following his graduation from Tech, Williams entertained kicking professionally, but he had always planned on coaching and teaching. He had already met his future wife, Tiffany (at the Cotton Bowl), and he was ready to head his life into a career in education and coaching.
Twelve years have passed since a “God thing” happened to Williams, and he has used his experiences to tell others that anything is possible. He’s spoken at schools, churches, and even at Baptist conventions about what happened to him.
“I wanted to pass the message that anything is possible,” Williams said. “That a person can make pretty much anything good happen out of any situation if you believe and apply yourself.”
One thing for sure is Williams will always be one of “the legends of the game,” and people are still “remembering when” and asking what it was like to have such an opportunity.
“It’s pretty cool when people bring it up, and I realize how they remember it,” Williams said.
Texas Tech fans certainly remember Williams and recently voted him as one of the top Red Raider kickers.
Editor’s Note: Thanks Coach for helping me separate the myths from the legend.