SAN FRANCISCO — Demetrius Williams
got tired of running from the law. He was tired of running in circles and toward a dark dead end street.
He finally figured out he'd rather run from other kids his age with helmets and shoulder pads.
He'd rather run toward his dream.
And today, he'll fulfill the first phase of those wishes in the 89th Turkey Day Game at famed Kezar Stadium, where his
Lincoln (San Francisco)
High School Mustangs (10-1) play the Mission Bears (7-3) for the San Francisco Section championship.
"I came from the bad side and got to the good side," Williams said. "To play on Thanksgiving day in front of a bunch of a cheering people, to make my mother smile, wow, now that's a blessing."
And Lincoln coach Phil Ferrigno counts his every day — especially with this group.
Williams is just the poster child of a team of kids who turned their lives around and bought into his system, a brotherhood, to become the dominant public program in San Francisco once again.
The Mustangs had won four straight SFS titles from 2004-08, the most consecutive championships in its 89-year history, and they reached a fifth straight title game in 2009, losing 35-0 to Galileo.
But after that loss, things began to change. Namely, an attitude. The program spiraled quickly, the Mustangs went 0-11 in 2010, the same year Williams was in and out of juvenile hall and now starting fullback and strong safety Giovanni Catalan
was academically ineligible.
They weren't the only two in the program not really
in the program.
"Across the board, we had a lot of kids not taking care of their business," Ferrigno said. "It's not difficult to fall off track. It's a me-first society. The kids see it on TV and all around and our job is to simply turn it around to we-first."
That's what Williams and Catalan did.
"Two years seems like a long time ago," Williams said. "I wasn't ready to be part of a real team then. I wasn't a bad kid but I just needed to be responsible for my actions. As soon as I did that, everything changed."
Same goes for the 5-8, 150-pound Catalan, who is the team's starting fullback and strong safety. He's overcome his small stature with a strong will and big-picture approach. His grade point average is also hovering near 3.0.
"I just needed to grow up a bit," he said. "I needed to shape up. I could see where I was headed so I just got committed to something worthwhile, something great."
After reaching the playoffs in 2011 with a 4-7 mark, the Mustangs jumped up to their "great" level this season and have outscored opponents 326-135.
They've done it with a complete team, no-star concept, though Williams is pretty close.
You'd never hear it from him.
The 5-7, 150-pound senior has rushed for 1,177 yards and 22 touchdowns and recorded a team-high 66 tackles. He also has a team-high three interceptions and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
In fact, in the team's 42-14 regular season win over Mission on Nov. 3, Williams rushed for 154 yards and scored four touchdowns.
He takes none of it for granted and points strictly to his teammates, coaches, family and God for turning things around.
"I don't mind telling people of all the things I did wrong because I want to show them how I've changed," Williams said. "I want to show them how we've changed. We just keep getting better each and every day.
"It started in the summer and no one has missed any days since. They say hard work pays off and we all see what that means. It's paid off big time. We've earned the right to play in this game."
And for Williams personally, he hopes his hard work leads to his ultimate dream of playing in college. He's small to be sure, but remarkably quick and strong for his size. With a little more bulk he could definitely play at the next level.
He'll simply keep pushing forward, toward the light.
"Life is too short," he said. "You don't get a lot of second chances. I got one being in this program with my team and brothers. I'm so thankful."