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Hapeville Charter QB Hajj-Malik Williams has helped stabilize No. 3 Hornets’ football program

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Hapeville Charter quarterback, Hajj-Malik Williams has grown from shaky sophomore to a field general as a senior. (Special Photo)

 

 

By Bill Renje

@BillRenje

HAPEVILLE, Ga. — The sophomore quarterback paced nervously.

Hajj-Malik Williams was anxiously awaiting his first start at the varsity level in 2015, in front of a packed stadium, no less, as the Lovejoy Wildcats prepared for the Big Cat Classic against Clayton County rival Mundy’s Mill.

Williams’ anxiety level didn’t slow down any when he overthrew his first varsity pass — a pass that was intercepted and quickly converted into a touchdown that put the Wildcats down 7-0.

His anxiety level definitely didn’t slow down when he broke his non-throwing hand during the game, a game that he would grind through and finish with a flurry.

What he did show was some insight into how he would handle future adversity when he led his team 80 yards down the field in the closing minutes of that first varsity contest. It was a drive that would culminate in Williams scoring from inside the 10-yard line on a quarterback draw to give Lovejoy a come-from-behind, last-second victory.

As is often the case with a sophomore QB making the transition to varsity starter, Williams’ season would prove to be rocky. He was ultimately benched behind a senior. But it was a piece of adversity he would use to challenge himself to raise his game to the next level.

“I had never experienced the feeling of being benched,” Williams said. “I never wanted to feel that feeling again. So I just decided to stay humble, and keep working to try to get better.”

A scholar-athlete, Williams would transfer to Hapeville Charter Career Academy. The Hornets’ football program was relatively new in the Region 6-AA classification. Started up by current coach, Winston Gordon in 2009, it was a program so new and limited in resources that they built the goalposts on their makeshift practice field, directly next to a Marta bus stop, with donated PVC pipe.

Their rise to relevance started with Class of ’15, three-star safety Antoine Walker who is now on the SEC Honor Roll as a South Carolina Gamecock. In 2015, the Hornets finished above .500 for the first time behind senior quarterback Mack Green who is now at Florida A&M.

“Hajj came in and gave us stability at quarterback (after Green graduated),” Gordon said. “Hajj is not a real ‘rah rah’ guy. He leads by example and has a real passion and love for the game which resonates with the rest of the guys.”

But having never been to the playoffs, Hapeville was looking to get to the next level. Williams, a rising junior going into the 2016 season would be a cornerstone — along with others including Stanford linebacker recruit Caleb Kelly, and William Poole who is now a Georgia Bulldog — in putting the program on the Georgia High School football map.

Going into Friday night’s Class AA state quarterfinal at No. 1 Benedictine (Savannah), the third-ranked Hornets are firmly on that map. They’ve followed up last season’s region championship and state semifinals finish with a second straight region title and an 11-1 overall record. Their only loss being a 21-20 road defeat to the top-ranked high school team in Alabama.

For Williams, who was named Team MVP after his junior season, the game has slowed down in his three years as a varsity quarterback. In 2016, he had a QB rating of 106 while completing 58 percent of his passes for 2,901 yards and 29 TDs.  So far this season, he’s raised both his QB rating to 116, and his completion percentage to 62% while throwing for 1,878 yards and 18 touchdowns, including a career high 340 yards against Thompson, that No. 1 ranked team in Alabama. 

“I think most of my growth has come with maturity,” Williams said. “The mental aspect and approach to my game has risen. And Coach (Gordon) has given me the keys to look for tendencies on film, to make my reads and checks (to call plays at the line).”

Once the season ends, all eyes will be on where Williams decides to play at the next level. He currently has 12 scholarship offers and is willing to let the process play out until National Signing Day in February. With a 3.8 GPA, he wants to major in the engineering field. Regardless of how far his football career takes him, his prospects appear to be limitless. Indeed, the best is still ahead of him.

“He’s a student of the game,” Gordon said. “He makes good decisions which allows us to give him some leeway. He’s grown a lot as a player and young man. But his best football is still ahead of him”

 

 

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