On Thursday morning, in front of her family, friends, teammates and coaches, the Kell High School hurdler and jumper accomplished a special feat that many professional athletes — Olympians included — never achieved.
After being honored by Gatorade as the state’s top girls track and field athlete for the fourth straight year — the only athlete in state history to do so — Williams was named the Gatorade National Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
While many Cobb County athletes have won Gatorade’s state honor, none have claimed the national prize.
Now, Williams’ name will go down on a short list of gifted athletes who won the same award for their respective sports, one that includes NFL greats Peyton Manning and Emmitt Smith, NBA star Dwight Howard, the WNBA’s Candace Parker and Major League Baseball star Derek Jeter.
“I’m always happy to get the state award, but to get the national award, the one I’ve been dreaming about, and to have it and be here with everybody, is incredible,” Williams said after a presentation at Kell. “The national award is a surprise, but the state award, I know I’m always a contender if I have a good season. But for the national award, there are so many good athletes everywhere, so this is just incredible.”
The Gatorade Player of the Year program, which was launched in 1985, selects one athlete from each state in each sport every school year, as well as a national athlete.
Williams — also the 2012-13 Marietta Daily Journal/Cobb County Female Athlete of the Year, indicative for the best-performing athlete from all sports — is now eligible to be Gatorade’s all-sport female athlete of the year.
Williams, who will be running track next year at Georgia, where her older brother, Devon, is already a member of the Bulldogs’ roster, was undefeated at hurdles in her four years at Kell. She also played a key role in the Lady Longhorns finishing second at the Class AAAAA state meet in May.
Williams wrapped up her high school career with three state championships, giving her 11 for her career. She posted the fastest high school time in the nation in the 100-meter hurdles, clocking in at 13.23 seconds. She also set a state record in the long jump by leaping 20 feet, 9¾ inches.
In the end, Williams won the overall points award in all classifications and the high points honor for the field events.
“She has a great attitude and great personality,” Kell track and field coach Andi Jenkins said. “She’s a humble person and so coachable, and that’s what has made her such a wonderful person to work with these past four years.”
Another highlight of Williams’ away from Kell include setting the U.S. junior record in the heptathlon (5,578) at the 2012 world junior championships in Barcelona, Spain, winning the athlete of the meet trophy in the process. Her latest accomplishment came last week, when she won the heptathlon in the U.S. junior championships, claiming the three of the seven events — the 100 hurdles (13.35), long jump (5-8¾) and high jump (19-3½).
Now, Williams is talking Olympics.
“I’m trying for 2016, so I’m going to be hitting the ground running with that at college,” Williams said. “When I get to Georgia, I definitely have to work on my technique, getting faster and jumping harder. It’s just the specific stuff I’ve been working on all these years.”
For Williams, it all started when she was 7 years old, and had she not attended her older brother Devon’s baseball game at the right place at the right time, she may not have recognized her potential. When Kendell just happened to see a group of boys her age racing, she took off her sandals and outran most of them with her bare feet.
“We decided we needed to go find a track program for her because she really had some speed,” Williams’ father, Blane, said.