By: Ahmad Graves-El
Bridgeton has been the home of many outstanding and upstanding citizens throughout its history. Among the well-known people who were born or have lived in this Cumberland County city are Frank LoBiondo, former U.S. Representative for New Jersey’s 2nd congressional district; Douglas H. Fisher, the New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture; and Flavia Alaya, author, writer, and founding director of the Center for Historic American Building Arts (CHABA).
Bridgeton has also been known as a hotbed for top-notch athletic talent including Nadia Davy, who in 2004 became an Olympic bronze medalist in the 4×400 meter relay for Jamaica; Braheme Days, Jr., gold medalist at the 2016 NACAC Under-23 Championships in Athletics; and professional football player, George Jamison, who spent most of his career playing for the National Football League’s (NFL) Detroit Lions.
Dominique Williams is another elite athlete who hails from the historic town.
Williams, 28, and current Lawrenceville, NJ resident, excelled in multiple sports at Bridgeton High School during the late aughts. He participated in three NJSIAA state track meets as a sophomore, junior, and senior. Willams also teamed up with current Bridgeton Bulldogs head football coach, Steve Lane, and two others to win gold in the shot put relay as a senior.
The sport that put Williams on the map, however, is football. He began his high school career as a linebacker hoping to follow in the footsteps of his favorite football player, Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.
Then, after switching positions and becoming the starting running back for the Bulldogs, Williams instantly became a veritable force to be reckoned with. He ran over, under, and through his opponents to gain nearly 3,000 yards rushing during his junior and senior years.
This and other experiences on his journey catapulted him into the world of professional football.
Williams, recently retired from professional football, is currently working on a book. The message of the story (presently, he has three good working titles from which to choose) is about the trials and tribulations one goes through in not only trying to reach the top, but also the extra hard work it takes to stay there.
On Saturday, July 13th, Williams is bringing that positive message as well as his well-rounded football acumen back home to Bridgeton as he is hosting a football camp for youngsters in the community.
As a recent pro football retiree, Williams’ goal now is to help the citizens of Cumberland County, especially children, escape from the downtrodden mindstate that unfortunately permeates the area.
SNJ Today had the opportunity to speak with Williams about his football career—which included playing for the Minnesota Vikings and the New York Jets—the serious topic of concussions, plans he has to help future generations, and more.
SNJ Today: Can you share with our readers a brief description of your Bridgeton High School sports career?
Williams: I began my freshman season as the starting (SAM) strong side linebacker. As a sophomore, I moved to middle linebacker and starting fullback while also taking on the roles as punter and kicker. [During] my junior and senior seasons, I [was] the starting running back while also playing middle linebacker (calling the defense) as well as the punter and kicker.
SNJ Today: After high school you didn’t go straight to college, you went to Milford Academy in New York. What prompted you to go there first?
Williams: I went to Milford to get more exposure because there were guys [who previously went there] who went [on] to bigger schools. It allowed for me to play against better competition. I was initially set to go to Wesley College, but my mentor, MaQuan Dawkins, saw that I had the skill set to play on the Division 1 level. He called a friend that was coaching at Milford at the time to get me a tryout with them.
SNJ Today: What were your stats at Milford? Do you feel that going to Milford was one of the best decisions you’ve made in your life?
Williams: I’m not sure the exact number, but I rushed for over 1,000 yards and had more than 10 TDs. Milford definitely was the best decision. It gave me the confidence I needed to keep going for the dream.
SNJ Today: Are there any life lessons that you learned by going to Milford Academy that you still use today?
Williams: I learned that if you truly want something, you have to work hard to get it and work even harder to sustain what you’ve [already] worked for.
SNJ Today: Where did you go after Milford Academy?
Williams: I went to Wagner College in Staten Island, NY, [where I] received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology.
SNJ Today: How did you feel when you signed as an undrafted free agent with the Minnesota Vikings?
Williams: I literally collapsed from exhaustion. I’d been working hard my entire life to receive that phone call. I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen because I had injured my back preparing for my pro day, which kept me from training the way I needed to.
SNJ Today: What was your NFL experience like?
Williams: It was a crazy learning experience. I learned a lot about myself. I looked up to guys that I was playing with and against and never thought I was good enough to be like them.
We never realize how much we discredit ourselves when we look at people doing what we want to do in life on such a high level. They’re human just like we are and my NFL experience taught me that I could really achieve every dream that I ever wished to achieve with discipline and an unwavering work ethic.
SNJ Today: SNJ Today discovered that you suffered at least one concussion during your NFL career. We now know that concussions and brain injuries can lead to lifelong suffering for those who are unfortunate to sustain one. Would you like to expand on that experience with our readers?
Williams: My eyes water … because I went through a deep depression for three long years. I was lost. The internal battle was exhausting and I literally wore a mask everyday trying to hide the fact that I was mentally gone. I had no clue what was going on with me. I was super sad all the time and I self-medicated with bad habits that caused even more pain. I often contemplated leaving everything behind and just living where people don’t know me.
I purposely slept in my car some nights to prevent my family from seeing me how I was. I cried almost every night for a good year clueless to what was happening to me. I was super embarrassed to even mention what was going on because I didn’t want to be seen as a weak man. I climbed out of that dark hole by reading different books and articles that helped me in so many ways. [I] went to church faithfully and surrounded myself with good people. When I finally started to feel normal again I blew my knee out and fell right back into the depression. This time, exercise and meditation helped me feel better. Now, I’m reading up on mental health and concussions to help other men like myself who may not know how to overcome the struggles they’ll face after playing this game.
SNJ Today: Have you thought about donating your brain after you leave this Earth (which hopefully is a very long time from now) for CTE research?
Williams: No, I haven’t thought about it. That’s something I’ll discuss with my wife and we’ll pray about the right decision to make.
SNJ Today: After your NFL career was over, you played in the CFL (Canadian Football League) with the Calgary Stampede. Did you get into any games with the Stampede and if so, what was that experience like compared to being in the NFL?
Williams: I did [get into games]. It was funny. The game was different because of the motioning and things going on. The rules were a little different and I loved learning as much as I did under [their coaching] staff. [Sometimes] I still think about training and going back out there—but I’m done with football.
SNJ Today: Why did you retire from the game?
Williams: I decided to be more proactive with my overall health and helping others with theirs. I feel called to help people off the field just as I did on the field.
SNJ Today: You are the founder and president of the DW Foundation. Can you share with our readers why you started your foundation? What is the philosophy behind your foundation and what goals do you hope to achieve?
Williams: I started the foundation to give back, of course, but I thought about the younger me. Things that I wish were available to me and my friends when we were kids.
Our philosophy aims to create momentum for our youth by teaching character and leadership skills to help them transition into life as an adult. I just hope that I influence them to become successful adults according to their own aspirations. When they walk away from any program we implement, we want them to feel confident and prepared to succeed in their choice of career, family, and finances.
SNJ Today: You are running a free Combine and Football Skills Camp at Bridgeton High School on July 13. What was the impetus behind your decision to run a camp in your hometown?
Williams: Again, I just wanted to provide something for the youth that never happened in our area. I was fortunate enough to make it out and go far.
While I was away from the area for several years, it seemed as if the community changed [for the worse]. I couldn’t believe some of the things I heard so I decided to create a camp that would bring hope. I want to change the narrative about Bridgeton. I feel like this is one good step in the right direction. The camp isn’t the ultimate solution, but I do hope that it’ll be a spark for us to get going in the right direction.
SNJ Today: Who can participate in this event?
Williams: The camp is for children ages 7 through 17 who play football.
SNJ Today: At this stage in your life, are you satisfied with how things have gone during your 28 years on this planet?
Williams: Definitely not satisfied. I left a lot on the table. It took me some time to accept it, but now I’m trying to make sure that I don’t do that again.
SNJ Today: Is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t talked about during this interview?
Williams: Family, friends, and community support goes a long way and I want to publicly thank everyone for not giving up on me and supporting me through this journey. If it had not been for them, I would have given up on the dream a long time ago.
For more information about the DW Foundation go to dwinspires.com and check out dwinspires on Instagram.