Jalen Williams admits that he doesn't even own a soccer ball.
He doesn't even choose to play soccer in his free time.
He still, from center-midfield, led the Lambert Longhorns as a team captain, facilitating an attack full of underclassmen. His leadership couldn't have been more evident in a 1-0 loss to Norcross in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs. As the Longhorns trailed by just that one goal for the entire second half, Williams was the one who played faster, harder and stronger as the game went on.
His body language spread through the rest of the team like a wildfire, and even though the Longhorns couldn't get the equalizer in that fateful game they came deadly close a handful of times in the final few minutes.
As the Longhorns walked off the field, many with their heads held low in disappointment, Williams stood out as he slowly crossed midfield to embrace his mother. He admits—he was so worn out that it was difficult to wear any type of emotion on his sleeve. Some might find it puzzling, but Williams calls it composure.
The 5-foot-9 frame and youthful complexion of Williams hides the exhaustion he's endured in four years, tirelessly leading the Longhorns. Year-by-year, the team lost strong players, and eventually Williams woke up one morning this past spring realizing he was going to be the man.
So when the Longhorns managed to go 7-1 after a rough start, finishing 11-7 overall, 6-3 in Region 6 and advancing to the state playoffs, Williams felt like his commitment to the game finally paid off.
“Halfway through the year I didn't even think we would make the playoffs,” Williams said. “So for us to bounce back like we did and finish better than we thought was gratifying. I'm disappointed we lost so early in the playoffs, but it was a good year.”
FCN: You admit you don't own a soccer ball, yet you committed to the Lambert varsity team. Why?
Williams: Just the competition. I'm a competitive person. It's something that's always been a part of me and, I honestly didn't even realize how good at soccer I was until high school. I played it on and off growing up, but once I realized I could hang in there it drove me to play.
FCN: What got you into the sport in the first place?
Williams: I think early on my parents just wanted me to find a sport. Baseball, basketball. I remember wanting to try soccer when I was 8 years old, so I played for a couple of years. When I was 13 I started to really get into it, got progressively better and it became more fun. I think that helped a lot.
FCN: Does soccer have a place in your future?
Williams: Honestly, not now. I'm burnt out. The last four years took a lot out of me. I'll be going to Mississippi State to major in finance and then hopefully come back to Atlanta. I had the chance to go play at a school called Newberry in South Carolina but chose not to. It's time for the next step.
FCN: What was your favorite moment from your senior season?
Williams: A few games ago I had a 30-yard shot, maybe 35 yards that just felt perfect. It floated in right under the crossbar.
FCN: What would you say were your biggest strengths on the soccer field?
Williams: Just my ability to score. My ball handling. I've also been pretty good at throw-ins, even though I'm short they go pretty far, kind of like corner kicks.
FCN: What does it mean to you to receive the FCN's Player of the Year award?
Williams: My Mom told me a couple of days ago. I didn't even think I'd get it, so it was exciting when I heard.