Rick Knox remembers watching Ke’Shawn Williams as a freshman, stretching seemingly beyond his reach to snare a pass during a junior-varsity football game at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy.
“We were like, ‘Did he just do that?’,” recalled Knox, the Blue Devils’ head coach.
Reaching for the sky is a specialty for Williams, who will snatch something more significant than a scoring pass Wednesday during the start of the early signing period for college football scholarships.
Williams, who proudly declares himself to be “North Philly-born and raised,” plans to sign a National Letter of Intent with Wake Forest, a prestigious academic school as well as a burgeoning Atlantic Coast Conference power.
Williams said his signing with Wake Forest will mark a milestone of a journey that began in earnest when he was in fourth grade.
“I had the opportunity to attend this program called ‘Stepping Stone’ that gave me a lot of opportunities,” Williams said. “That’s what gave me a chance to come here (to Springside Chestnut Hill).
“I had a lot of opportunities that other kids didn’t have and I always wanted to make sure I took advantage of them.”
Knox calls Williams “a once-in-a-decade” player who made an impact on offense, defense and special teams for the Blue Devils.
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Williams set Inter-Ac league all-time marks for receptions (136), receiving yards (2,199) and receiving touchdowns (26), Knox said.
This season, Williams led Springside Chestnut Hill to a 6-0 start. Even the Blue Devils’ losses were exciting, especially a 42-38 setback to Germantown Academy and a 35-34 thriller against Inter-Ac League champion Episcopal Academy in the first night game in school history.
“The ending was bad but that was a great experience,” Williams said of the loss to the Churchmen, who finished as the No. 5 team in the Inquirer’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Top 10. “I feel like we changed the culture this year. People were looking at us differently.”
In addition to his playmaking as a wide receiver, Williams also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and took an interception back 85 yards for another score.
“He’s just a special player,” Knox said.
Williams credits his success on the field, and in the classroom, to a support system led by his mother and father, Shawn and Kenneth Williams.
“Every game, you could look in the crowd and see my family up there, screaming,” Williams said. “They kept my head on straight.”
Williams originally committed to Kent State but kept his options open. He was intrigued by recruiting interest from Wake Forest, which rose as high as No. 17 in the national rankings this season.
Williams visited Wake Forest’s campus in Winston-Salem, N.C., for the Demon Deacons’ 39-27 win over Duke on Nov. 23 and again the weekend of Dec. 6-8.
“It was just what I was looking for,” Williams said. “It was crazy, being on the field and looking up at the stands. It was something I want to be part of.”
Williams said he plans to pursue a major that will enable him to start a career in the sports-medicine field.
“I just love the idea of being around sports,” Williams said.
Knox said Williams’ signing with Wake Forest will be “validation” of the teenager’s diligence on the field and in the classroom as well as his determination to make positive decisions in his personal life.
“Wake Forest won’t recruit just anybody based on their ability to play football,” Knox said. ”Ke’Shawn is a kid who has done the right things every day.”
Williams said Wake Forest’s success on the football field was only part of the Demon Deacons’ lure. He also was struck by the similarities to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy — a relatively small, private school with a supportive student body and administration and a heavy emphasis on academics.
“I never thought I could go to a school like Wake Forest,” Williams said. “But to me, it’s always been about shooting high, trying to make the most of the opportunities that I was given.”