Sunday, April 21, 2024

Williford learns from setbacks in U career

November 6, 2000
Senior forward Steve Williford protects the ball from Western midfielder Jeremy Seney during their game Oct. 25 at the WMU Soccer Complex in Kalamazoo. MSU beat Western 3-1. —

Sometimes sports fans get so wrapped up in the glitz and glamour of big time college athletics they forget intercollegiate athletics is more than just entertainment - it is a tool used to shape athletes as people.

The core of this process can be seen more clearly when looking at athletes like MSU senior forward Steve Williford, who plays soccer - a nonrevenue sport where the media does not cake-on layers of hype.

“I think I learned the most in life through soccer,” Williford said. “It teaches you everything. Every emotion you could possibly have in real life you can have in a game, (and) you can have them throughout a season. It has taught me a lot, there’s nothing else I love more than the game.”

Williford has endured a turbulent career filled with injuries, but has emerged as one of MSU’s best players this season - recording six points, including two game-winning goals against Loyola-Chicago and Michigan. The combined efforts from those games earned him Big Ten Player of the Week for the week of Oct. 9.

MSU head coach Joe Baum said a lot of people questioned if Williford could be a valuable player this year after enduring injuries throughout his collegiate career.

“The coaching staff believed in Steve, we believed that if he just stayed positive and worked he could get himself back in playing condition, and he’s done that,” Baum said. “That’s a credit to him because there have been times when I know he’s been pretty discouraged with his injuries.”

Going into his junior year Williford was granted a medical red-shirt after fracturing his foot. He reinjured that foot during a summer league game. While staying at school during winter break to train last year, Williford tore a ligament in his ankle while playing in a pickup basketball game.

Injuries have not been the only cause of Williford missing out on things in his life.

Williford said there was a time in high school when he did not spend a lot of time socializing on weekends so he could focus on improving his soccer skills.

“I’ve missed out on things when I was younger,” Williford said. “In junior high I didn’t go to those dances, I’d play ball. Even Friday nights in high school I’d go kick the ball up at my school or at the wall. I can still remember days of homecoming when I was sitting up at the park in the rain and I could see the limos going by.”

This dedication to the sport has led to Williford’s intense and competitive mentality, resulting in him taking it out on his teammates sometimes. But just like his injuries, Williford has been able to overcome aspects of his personality that at times have been crippling to his team.

Williford said he has learned how to work better with his teammates, realizing that not everyone on the team shares his intensity.

“I think what I try to do now with the people on the field is give them something positive along with something bad,” Williford said. “In the past it would just be something bad. I know that sometimes I can unleash and that’s only because I want to win. I’m not out there to dillydally and look good for chicks.”

Senior goalkeeper and co-captain T.J. Lieckfelt said Williford does not rip guys apart when they make mistakes, but it seems like he is because he is hard to talk to.

“He never is really negative (while) getting on a guy, he’s just really quiet,” Lieckfelt said. “If a guy screws up Willie won’t rub it in his face. He’ll just shrug it off. He never ever puts down a player, he’s just hard to approach because of his personality.”

Senior defender and co-captain John Benoist said when you play with a competitor like Williford, he expects you to give him your best effort every day.

“He looks for perfection, which is good, but not always there,” Benoist said. “Sometimes it comes off that he’s getting on a guy for making a mistake, but I don’t think that’s always the case. I just think he really wants the team to do well.”

Baum said Williford doesn’t deceive anybody and is straight forward.

“Sometimes you don’t like to hear things, but his honesty at times can be refreshing,” Baum said. “He’s a money player, and when chips are on the line he seems to come up big.”

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