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Staff photo by JOE MARCHILENA

Nashua North's Andre Williams, left, runs with teammate Jahmar Gathright during last year's Class L championship track meet.
Thursday, May 19, 2011

North’s Williams focused on his future

There isn’t a high school athlete in the state quite like Nashua High School North’s Andre Williams. Nobody who possesses the same combination of speed and power that sets the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior apart.

A two-time 1,000 yard rusher in football, Williams was never better than in last year’s Division I semifinal game against cross-town rival Nashua South, when he was literally a human battering ram.

In North’s 49-35 victory, Williams rushed for 279 yards and five touchdowns. He used his speed to run by opponents and his power to run over them. After the game he talked about how he was fresh and healed going into the game. The comment might have rubbed some people the wrong way. Williams was returning from a two-game disciplinary suspension.

When the points were tabulated after last spring’s Class L track championships, North finished in second place. It wasn’t the title the Titans coveted, but it was an achievement none the less.

But after the meet, word surfaced that Williams wasn’t academically eligible to compete that day. When his points were deducted from North’s final score – a second-place finish in the 200-meter dash and a fourth in the 100 – the Titans dropped back to third.

Williams admitted he’s made mistakes over the years, but he didn’t want to talk about them Tuesday during a home track meet against Bishop Guertin.

The snub by Division I football coaches, who brought character issues into the All-State selection debate and left perhaps the state’s most gifted player off the first or second team? Well, that’s nothing he had any control over.

What Williams can control is his future. Next Friday night in Merrimack he’ll attempt to help North win a second track championship in a little over three months.

At the Division I indoor championships in February, Williams helped lead the Titans to their first boys’ state title in school history. He was fourth in the 55, but in winning the 300 he proved that once he reached his cruising speed, nobody can catch him. He proved it again in helping the Titans win the 4x200, the points they needed to clinch a narrow victory over Bishop Guertin and bring a boys banner to the gym.

North track coach Nate Burns, who coached Andre’s older brother Anthony, sees a high school student who doesn’t turn 18 until August, maturing before his eyes.

“I’ve seen a focus I didn’t see before in Andre, beginning indoors this winter” Burns said. “Last year he would have let the fourth-place finish in the 55 get him down. This year he put it behind him, won the 300 and ran a great leg of the 4x200.

“I’ve had him for three years and he’s come a long way, and there’s still room for growth.”

For Williams, that growth won’t come during a redshirt year at a Division I football school. Needing to build on his recent focus in the classroom, Williams will attend Dean College in Norton, Mass., and line up on the gridiron against junior varsity programs and community colleges.

If he has the kind of success – both in the classroom and on the football field – that Burns and football coach Jason Robie are predicting, Williams should get his shot at Division I football in a year or two.

Williams doesn’t have to look too far to find a role model. In fact, as he was competing on Tuesday that role model was visiting with his old coaches, and working out in the North weight room.

Four years ago, Kendall Reyes graduated from North as an extraordinarily gifted athlete still a long way from reaching his potential. Now, about to enter his third year as a full-time starting defensive lineman at the University of Connecticut, Reyes should be waiting for his name to be called at next April’s NFL draft.

“I look at Kendall as a big inspiration, especially coming out of Nashua and doing what he’s done,” Williams said. “Whenever I see him he tells me ’Dre, stay in class, do your homework first, coaches want you, just stay in school.’ ”

If hitting the books hasn’t always been a No. 1 priority for Williams, neither has the weight room. The potential to get bigger is obvious. A year from now, with the right regimen, he could easily be a chiseled 210 pounds.

Williams also believes a more dedicated training approach will make him faster, which should inspire some Division I coaches to keep close tabs on his development at Dean.

He has regrets. He says he feels especially bad about costing North the runner-up plaque in boys track last spring, but said he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to run in the meet.

But more than anything he’s looking forward not backward. And for a running back who says he’s always had pretty good vision on the football field, he’s seeing plenty of daylight in his future.