1997 USF Bulls: Keith Williams proof it's never too late to finish degree

Keith Williams shows off the bachelor's degree he received last year in interdisciplinary studies from Hodges.
Keith Williams shows off the bachelor's degree he received last year in interdisciplinary studies from Hodges.
Published Aug. 18, 2017

More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team.

He blames his short-sighted perspective for his short-lived tenure at USF.

Fullback Keith Williams, a member of the 1997 Bulls, never made it to '98. By his own admission he was truant, tardy and ultimately ineligible.

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"I put myself in the hole," said Williams, a father at 15 who still managed to graduate from Fort Myers Bishop Verot High. "Everything that happened to me, I allowed it to happen by the decisions that I made."

The self-regret intensified when Williams' mother, Rosa Lee Williams, lost her battle with cancer in 2008. Before her death, Williams promised his mom he'd get his degree, but as a father of three with a full-time job, he really didn't know how.

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The fullback found daylight in August 2014. Then-Bulls coach Willie Taggart had invited former USF players to have lunch with the current ones. Williams attended and was encouraged by some of Taggart's staffers to give it another go. They even pointed out some programs available to help former players complete their degrees.

"My wife (Katrina), the entire time she'd been telling me to do it," Williams said. "But that (lunch) is really when it was like, 'Okay, I've got to see how to go about doing this.' "

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Starting in the spring of 2015, Williams drove a truck for Home Depot during the day and took online courses from Fort Myers' Hodges University at night. When his day job was too demanding, Williams would cram on Saturdays, completing projects or classwork as college football provided a mild distraction on his flat-screen.

On Aug. 23, 2016, he received his bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from Hodges.

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Williams, 40, now hopes to pursue his longtime aspiration of teaching and coaching at the prep level. The odds are stern; he was arrested on misdemeanor domestic-violence charges in 2002 and '09, but wasn't prosecuted for either. Still, he believes the life lessons he can impart are priceless.

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"I always used to tell my guys (in youth football) that I'm a perfect example of what not to do," Williams said. "I never reached my full potential playing football because I made bad decisions."