ROCKINGHAM — Perry Williams knew early on what he wanted to do in life.
The Hamlet native and former New York Giants cornerback told a group of students at the Leak Street Cultural Center that he was in the fifth grade when he decided, “One day, I’m gonna be somebody.”
“Not only was I gonna be on television,” he said, “I was gonna play in the Super Bowl.”
Perry said his grandmother wasn’t convinced, saying: “The only Super Bowl he’ll probably end up playing is a toilet bowl.”
Fourteen years later, he was playing in his first Super Bowl — alongside Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms — against the Denver Broncos led by John Elway.
The night of the game, he said he called back home to talk with his mother and asked, “What do you think about that toilet bowl kid now?”
Before signing autographs, Williams delivered a message to the kids: “Be the best you can be. I don’t care where you came from.”
He said he wanted them to “Go mad — Go make a difference.”
“I want to start right now to get you ready for the future,” he added.
Williams told them that great people come from this area, mentioning fellow sports stars Mike Quick and Dannell Ellerbe, as well as jazz legends John Coltrane and Dizzy Gillespie.
“They went mad,” he said. “They believed they could make a difference. It’s not how you begin, it’s how you end.”
He told them how he as the product of a broken home; his parents divorced when he was young and he was raised by his mother and grandmother.
“I made it anyways, because I believed in myself,” he said. “There are gonna be some bumps in the road, but you’ve got to persevere.”
He was also influenced by Charlie Bishop, a coach and mentor who became a father figure to him.
Williams played football for Richmond Senior High School and was on the 1978 state championship team.
He later attended North Carolina State University on scholarships for football and track and was one of the few at the school to be an All-American in both sports.
Williams went to the Giants in 1983 as a seventh-round draft pick and was a starter for 10 of his 11 years with the team.
Williams stressed the importance of taking advantage of opportunities and getting an education, saying NFL stands for “Not For Long.”
While playing football, Williams went back to school and earned a master’s degree. He now holds a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and a master’s of public administration.
“You’ve got to get an education,” he said. “You are the leaders of tomorrow. Prepare yourself right now.”
After leaving professional sports, Williams taught at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, New Jersey, and travels the country as a motivational speaker.
“The best way to make a dream come true,” he said, “is to wake up and make your dream a reality.”
Reach reporter William R. Toler at 910-817-2675 and follow him on Twitter @William_r_Toler.