Willie Brown, The Chart

Senior Brandon  Williams looks in on his son, Ryder, after Saturday’s game against Northwest Missouri State University. Williams had one sack in the game, taking sole possession of the all-time Missouri Southern sack record, passing Lion legend Ken Shorten.

Last weekend, senior defensive tackle Brandon Williams became the all-time leader in sacks at Missouri Southern. And his son was there to see him do it.

“That’s the first thing I thought about when that happened,” Williams said. “‘My son’s here. He saw that. My lady, she saw that.’ Even though he won’t remember it, there will be times when I’m like, ‘Dude, you were there when I broke the school record.’ Definitely there’s more sacks to come, but this one meant a lot because he was there.”

Ryder Jaymes Williams was born Sept. 29, just hours before his father was to play in that pivotal game against Central Missouri. Every game counts for Brandon now, with the NFL eying his every move.

It’s easy to see how much success Williams has and will continue to achieve, but early on, things weren’t so clear.


Williams grew up with a single mother, Shelly Washington, a woman who worked hard to provide for her two sons but still came up short from time to time.

“There were times I’d come home from school and stare at the fridge, knowing nothing’s in it, but I’d look in there anyway just in case,” Williams said. “Maybe one day my mom went to the store. Maybe we had the money to get some food in the house. There’s been times I just ate crackers to get by.”

And at 6’3” and 325 lbs., it begs the question, why don’t we all eat crackers a little more?

It wasn’t uncommon for him to stay with friends for hours or days on end to make sure he ate.

“There’s been times where I’ve been poor, living out of the car,” Williams said. “She’s driving us to school, and all of our clothes are literally in the backseat of the car.”

Williams showed talent early on, but his upbringing often prevented him from doing some things that could have brought his talent to the forefront sooner.

Throughout high school, he was invited to dozens of camps designed to hone his skills, but he never attended because his mother couldn’t afford to send the then-offensive lineman away.

Despite the struggles, Williams was able to get a college scholarship here at Missouri Southern. He became a Lion and shined early on, finishing eighth on the team in tackles his freshman season.

Then, it all nearly came tumbling down. 


“I was thinking I could have one play, and it’d be done; one play, and I could be paralyzed,” Williams said.

During a preseason workout, Williams ruptured a disk in his back. He played through the season with the injury, one that would keep a normal man sidelined for weeks.

But Brandon Williams isn’t a normal man. He’s a diesel, sidelined only long enough to refuel before getting back on the road.

In August 2009, surgery fixed the ruptured disk, though the problems for this criminal justice major were far from over.

Williams was hit with a staph infection, then spinal meningitis. He was leaking spinal fluid.

“The doctor told me if I hadn’t come in when I did, because I was planning on just going to sleep and figuring out how I felt the next morning, but he was like, if I had waited to come in, I’d have been gone,” he said.


After some time, doctors got things under control. Williams had to sit out the 2009 season with a medical redshirt, but he came back stronger than ever, racking up nine sacks and earning All-American honors.

In 2011, Williams finished with eight sacks, moving him to just two sacks shy of the all-time record.

This season, he was a pre-season All-American for the third time. High expectations followed him wherever he went.

Then last weekend, it finally happened.

Williams had been chasing Ken Shorten’s all-time Lion sack record since week one. He passed Lion great and NFL alumnus Robert Jordan along the way, and heading into last week, he was tied with Shorten on the all-time list.

How poetic that the first game his son attended was the one in which Williams took sole possession of the record.


On Sept. 29, Williams was scheduled to line up against a good offensive line in Warrensburg against the Central Missouri Mules. The day before, however, his girlfriend Alyssa Karel went into labor.

Just under 24 hours later, their son was born.

“It was Saturday morning when she had him at 4:56,” Williams said. “I’ve got a game in Warrensburg at 1:30. If I’ve got to miss a game, I’ll miss a game. I’m not missing this.”

Just hours after cutting the cord, Williams was on the road from Fayetteville, Ark., to Warrensburg to play the game that has brought him so much attention. Meanwhile, his son lay in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit with amniotic fluid in his lungs.

“[Ryder] was fine,” Karel said. “He was a champ.”

Ryder Williams stayed in the NICU for four days, and, with the exception of game time, his father was there with him every step of the way.

Some may judge Williams harshly for leaving his son to be with his team in those first few hours. After all, a baby has a lot riding on its parents. Brandon, however, has a lot riding on this season.

“I know that it’s his senior season, and I’ve been supportive the whole time because I know that his goals and his dreams, it may be a little bit of sacrifice now, but it’ll be worth it in the end,” Karel said.

“It’s been hard, but this opportunity is also a blessing,” Williams said. “I can take care of her, my mom, as well as my family. It’s just a big opportunity to take care of everyone.”

Since the birth of his son, Williams has juggled the roles of student, football star and father to the best of his abilities.

His two worlds sometimes blur at the edges. He’s learned about parenting on the football field: “It’s a teamwork thing. I’ll change him, she’ll get the bottle, I’ll burp him, whatever.”

And he even jokes, “I hold him like a football all the time.”

He spends several nights a week in Fayetteville with his budding family, driving to Joplin each day for class and practice. He drives back again at night to spend time with his son and, according to him, future wife.

That kind of schedule would be tough on anyone, but Williams takes it on with a smile.

“You’ve just got to do it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re tired, it doesn’t matter if you ain’t getting much sleep. It’s one of those things, he’s expecting you to perform on the field to take care of him later, and she’s expecting me to take care of business, perform everywhere. It’s one of those things; I’ve just got to do it. Keep pushing.”

That’s on top of the late night feedings and diapers.

“I’ll wake up every day, every minute, if I have to because this is me,” he said. “This is my guy, you know.”


The late night feedings will subside, but Brandon’s schedule may never go back to normal, not just because he’s now a father but because he’s catching the eyes of the NFL.

“The thing that I can’t help him with right now is the baby crying at night …” Lion Head Coach Daryl Daye said. “I’m just helping him as far as just helping him understand that he’s got a couple weeks left. He needs to make sure he does his best to make a commitment, you know, with his potential to go to the next level. He can help his family out a lot better if he focuses on these next three weeks.”

“They’ve worked really well with me. They still expect me to show up on the field and go to practice though,” Williams agreed.

Williams will finish out his college career over the next three weeks by facing the offenses of Lindenwood, Truman State and heated rival and defending national champions Pittsburg State. That’s barring a postseason berth for the Lions.

Then it’s time for the real work to begin.

According to Coach Daye, every NFL team has sent a scout to look at Brandon in various capacities at least three times so far, and the number of visits will only climb as the calendar creeps closer to the NFL draft in April.

“I’ve heard a lot of stuff [about the NFL], but I don’t care,” Williams said. “As long as I’m there, that’s a dream come true.”

NFL draft websites have him listed as being drafted anywhere from the third round to the seventh round. Virtually none of them predict he’ll go undrafted in April.

CBS Sports currently lists him as the No. 18 defensive tackle prospect and the No. 198 prospect overall.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. even tweeted about Williams in May, saying, “Two non Div I-A prospects I will be watching very closely this season are Elon WR Aaron Mellette & Missouri Southern DT Brandon Williams.”

All the hype surrounding Williams might create a psychological mess for lesser players, but Brandon should be able to avoid that pitfall. In fact, Coach Daye said the amount of growing up Brandon’s done, and will continue to do as a father, will serve him well in the NFL.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but this motivation, her and my son, their motivation overshadows that, so it’s a cakewalk,” Williams said. “I’ve got to do it every day. If I don’t make this play or I don’t do well, that’s food out of my son’s mouth, that’s shoes he wanted, that’s the ring she wants, you know… that’s my job now. It’s my job to be a provider. It’s my job to be a protector. It’s what I have to do. And I’m glad to bring it all on, too, because it’s just amazing.”

When the NFL comes calling in April, Williams said he still plans to get his degree, even if he can’t complete it on time in May. He will be the first person in his family to graduate from college, a feat that, in and of itself, is impressive.

Still, the NFL lifestyle will force him to miss some of the little things, things he said actually turn out to be the big things.

“There’s going to be times I might miss birthdays or I might miss the first steps, but hopefully she can Steven Spielberg it for me…it’s great I’m doing all this big stuff, but I’m missing some of the little stuff that means something.”

They say that behind every great man is a great woman, and Karel is no exception to that rule.

“For me, I know that not everybody gets the opportunity like he does, and it’s worth a shot,” she said. “He’ll give it all he can for as long as he can, and I know one day, we’ll get that time with him… We love it, we’re supportive, and this is all I’ve ever really known with him.”

While it looks like the NFL is a sure thing for Williams, nothing is ever set in stone. He knows his son comes first, which is the reason he’s chasing this dream so many before him have chased. According to Karel, it’s also why he’ll succeed.

“Regardless of what happens, [Brandon] has this mentality in everything that he does in life, literally. Whenever it comes to me, to his friends, to his family, everything he does, he has that same determination, motivation and excitement for life, and it’s definitely going to, I think, going to flow over to Little Man. [Ryder] has a good mentor, for sure.”