During his heyday as a high school basketball star, Ike Williams earned a reputation as a hard-nosed, tough enforcer for the famed St. Anthony High School basketball team.
Williams was a relentless power forward, a 6-foot-6 basketball Adonis who was a key member of the 1996 St. Anthony team that won the national championship. He was the one who did all the little things that made the fabulous Friars tick. He would rebound like his life depended on and defended like no other.
“I was aggressive,” Williams said of his playing style. “I knew how to rebound and foul.”
Williams claims that his basketball talents started playing another sport altogether.
“I was a football junkie,” Williams said. “Football was always my first sport.”
Williams first attended Lincoln High School and played football there, after learning about football through the Jersey City PAL program.
“I was a monster middle linebacker,” Williams said. “But my mother didn’t want me to go to Lincoln.”
So Williams transferred to Ferris and joined the basketball program there. When that didn’t work out, Williams was introduced to legendary Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Hurley.
“Coach Hurley really helped me,” Williams said. “So did Jerry Walker [the former St. Anthony and Seton Hall star who is currently a member of the Hudson County Chosen Board of Freeholders]. I started hanging with Jerry and he brought me to White Eagle Hall [the former bingo hall that was the Friars’ practice home]. Coach Hurley spent a lot of time with me working on my game. Everything about basketball was new to me. I love Coach Hurley. He’s like a father figure to me. I would run through walls for him and climb mountains for him.”
Williams earned a reputation as a solid basketball player in high school. He developed his talents enough to earn a scholarship to Fairleigh Dickinson University.
“I played one year at FDU,” Williams said. “I then went to Tallahassee County College, but I suffered a partially torn ACL and also tore my wrist, so I couldn’t play. I wanted to stay in Florida and was looking at Florida and Florida State, but after I sat out the whole year, I went back to FDU, but by then, basketball just didn’t work out for me.”
Soon after returning home to Jersey City, Williams was involved in an incident that changed his life forever.
“I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Williams said.
Williams was in the parking lot of a since-closed Jersey City diner when a fight broke out. Williams was eventually accused of hitting a young man and the teenager eventually died from his injuries.
“What that did was change my life tremendously,” Williams said. “That experience taught me a lot and actually changed me for the better. My life is all about people, places and things. I’m actually glad I went through that. If that didn’t happen, I probably would be dead right now. It gave me the opportunity to change my life and never look back.”
Williams served five years in prison for that unfortunate incident.
“I did five years for something I didn’t do,” Williams said. “I started reading the Bible. I changed my life.”
Williams returned to Jersey City after his prison stints.
“I already had my mind made up,” Williams said. “I was going to do something with kids.”
His son, Mehkia Williams, was six years old at the time.
“I was teaching him how to hold a football and how to throw,” Williams said. “I worked with him every day.”
At that time, Rex Turso, who runs the Jersey City Jets football program, asked Williams if he wanted to become a coach.
“Rex gave me my first head coaching job,” Williams said.
Soon after, Williams decided to branch out and form his own organization, the Hudson County Dolphins.
“We had no funding,” Williams said. “I wanted to form my own team to compete in the American Youth Football League. We did a lot of canning and had a pancake breakfast fundraiser.”
In the first year of existence, Williams took his 10-and-under team to the league championship. He then joined the New York/New Jersey Metro Conference under the auspices of the Amateur Athletic Union and had two teams, a 10-and-under and a 14-and-under. Both teams went to the championship.
“We wore mismatched helmets and used shoulder pads,” Williams said. “We were able to get other used equipment. Jersey City Recreation helped with getting us fields. We wanted to attract kids from all over the county, kids who believe in the same things that I believe in.”
So Williams formed teams in the ages 8-and-under, 10-and-under, 12-and-under and filled all three teams.
“It wasn’t hard to compete,” Williams said. “We just wanted to get to Florida [and the national championships]. We wanted to get to Disney World.”
In just the third year of existence, Williams is taking his 10-and-under team to the national championships. His other Dolphins teams are flourishing, but the 10s are headed to Disney World in a few weeks.
In August, several members of the New York Giants came to a Dolphins practice at Berry Lane Park in Jersey City to meet with the players and present Williams with a $10,000 check. Players like Damon “Snacks” Harrison, B.J. Hill, B.J. Goodson, Dalvin Tomlinson, Donte Deayon and B.W. Webb worked out with the Dolphins and gave the youngsters some pointers.
“We’re only together for three years and we’ve been in the championship every year,” said Williams, who coaches one team and oversees the whole program. “It’s a blessing. It really is. It’s a great feeling to know where we’ve come from and where we’re at.”
More than 125 youngsters participate in the Hudson County Dolphins program. There’s no affiliation with any other organization. This is all because of Ike Williams, a grassroots organization if there ever has been one.
“You know,” Williams said. “I always saw myself as becoming a football coach. I thought I would end up in football. I love basketball, don’t get me wrong, but I’m a football coach.”
And Williams will take his Dolphins 10-and-under team to Disney World to compete for a national title. It’s a long way from the head banger and rabble rouser that Williams once was. At age 40, Williams has turned the corner of his life – and likes what the future holds.