They laughed about it all season, calling themselves members of The Runner-up Club. Hempstead coach Antoine Moore (1987), assistant coach Mike Roberts (1982) and all-purpose back Terrell Williams (2007) each finished second in the Thorp Award voting. But last night, Williams joined a more elite club.
The elusive and speedy 5-9, 190-pound senior was named the 2008 Thorp Award winner as Nassau County's most outstanding football player last night at the Nassau County Gridiron Dinner held at Crest Hollow Country Club.
Williams is the sixth player in school history to win the award and first since Lamont Hough in 1988. "I've watched Hempstead football for 30 years," Moore said, "and he's the best I've ever seen. He's the best of the best."
Justin Mayers of Elmont and Anthony Brunetti of Holy Trinity were the other finalists for the award, presented by Newsday since 1942.
It's hard to imagine any player meaning more to his team than Williams did. In leading the Tigers to a 7-3 record, Williams set nine school records and defined the term all-purpose back with numerous breathtaking, game-breaking long runs.
Here are some of his incredible 2008 numbers: 23 touchdowns, ' points, 2,667 all-purpose yards, 1,379 rushing yards - and five touchdowns and 436 all-purpose yards in a 46-36 win over Massapequa on Oct. 11. Those are all school records.
He also finished No. 1 in Hempstead history in career touchdowns (42), points (266) and all-purpose yards (4,799).
"He's done everything you can ask of a player. He'll play any position," Moore said. "He loves running the ball, but we've used him at quarterback, wide receiver, linebacker, cornerback, kick returner and punter. Wherever there's a need, he's there."
Williams scored 14 rushing touchdowns, five on runs of more than 50 yards, including a 91-yard burst against Baldwin on Nov. 8. He completed 8 of 12 passes for 179 yards, one TD and two PATs. He caught 12 passes for 385 yards and five TDs. He returned 18 kicks for 722 yards and had a total of four returns for touchdowns (74-yard fumble recovery return, 85- and 96-yard kickoff returns, 101-yard interception return). He made 61 solo tackles with 35 assists, intercepted three passes, recovered five fumbles and averaged 32.4 yards as the team's punter.
Rumors to the contrary, he did not lead the marching band at halftime or sell hot dogs at the concession stand. But if asked, he would have. "Not every great athlete is a great citizen," Hempstead athletic director Robert Cincotta said. "This kid is a great citizen."
Moore echoed those sentiments. "He's humble and he's a competitor," he said. "He never once mentioned the records or the award. All he wanted to do was win. He always thinks team first. He brought camaraderie back to the program. He's a team leader who never missed practice. It wasn't just his productivity on the field, it was the intangibles he brought - the hard work, the commitment."
Williams said the Thorp Award represented all of those intangibles. "It tells me that all the work and the determination was worth it," he said. "I didn't talk about [the award], but after finishing second last year, I thought about it. I wanted to win the championship but as it got closer, I did think about it."
Williams was in tears coming off the field after the Tigers were eliminated by Massapequa in the county semifinals Nov. 13, so this award softened the blow.
"This means a lot to me. This was a special year," Williams said, carrying the hefty trophy. "The bonding with my teammates and everything my coaches taught me. I'm grateful I had them all in my life."
Williams has Division I college football aspirations but needs to improve his academic standing. According to Moore, several D-I schools have shown interest, including Stony Brook, Hofstra, Albany, Connecticut, Syracuse and Maryland. But the coach said Williams fell short on his SATs this fall and will take the exam again, as well as the ACTs. Moore said Williams' GPA is "borderline," so prep school remains a strong possibility for next year.
"I think he's a Division I player and I know that's what he wants," Moore said. "He may have to wait a year, but the offers will come."