Clarksville, Ark.-Not even famed University of Georgia running back Herschel Walker was faster than Percy Williams.
Williams, a 5-foot-7, 145-pound sprinter, beat the 6-foot-1, 225-pound Walker at an indoor 60-meter race during his collegiate days. Walker wasn’t the only runner Williams beat over a four-year span while at Ozarks. Williams, who competed at Ozarks from 1981-1984, made a name for himself around the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference and ended his career owning a number of school records. His times in the 100-meter, 200-meter and 800-meter have yet to be touched. And, he was part of the school’s record-setting one-mile relay.
For his accomplishments, the Louisiana native will enter the University of the Ozarks Sports Hall of Fame January 12, 2013.
“I was excited to hear the news,” said Williams. “When I came in as a freshman, I set high goals and I wanted to break every record at Ozarks. I wanted to be the best I could be. I gave it my all. I tried to overachieve.”
Ozarks Head Track Coach Jerry Wagoner never saw Williams run in High School, but had heard enough about him to make a recruiting trip to the talent-rich area of Sunshine, La. Wagoner extended a scholarship offer on the spot to Williams, who had owned Louisiana High School track records for his classification.
“Coach Wagoner offered me a scholarship the first time we met,” said Williams. “I didn’t commit immediately, but after talking it over with my mother and convincing him to give my friend a scholarship, I decided on Ozarks.”
For Williams, Ozarks was a perfect fit.
“I felt right at home at Ozarks,” he said. “Everyone associated with the university made me feel welcome. From Coach Wagoner to President Fritz Ehren, they all saw that our needs were met. The people in general were nice. Dr. Ehren even visited us in the dorm rooms.”
Wagoner was especially influential on Williams, both in life and on the track.
“Coach Wagoner taught me a lot,” said Williams. “He was a father figure to me and I always admired him for that.”
Williams remembers a race against a highly regarded sprinter from Southern Arkansas University. SAU’s Sammy Epps was considered by many to be among the fastest runners in Arkansas during the 1980’s. Prior to the race, Wagoner explained to Williams that no one within the state had beaten Epps. He didn’t want Williams to be upset if he lost. A few minutes later and in close range of Williams, Wagoner turned to Ozarks Assistant Track Coach Lonnie Qualls and told him he didn’t think Williams could win the race. A surprised Williams looked at one of his teammates in disbelief, unable to understand why one of his own coaches would bet against him. The exchange between the two Ozarks’ coaches motivated Williams. Williams promptly beat Epps, one of three times he would do so in his career.
“Coach Wagoner’s motivation techniques were unique,” he said. “After the race, coach told me he never doubted me. He always made it interesting. He made the whole team run 13 miles a day in practice. I couldn’t believe I was doing long distance training. He never really let me run the 100-meter or 200-meter in practice. I would go to the track at night and train.”
It was this type of training regiment that probably helped Williams win a number of 100-meter, 200-meter and 220-meter races during his career. It also put Ozarks’ program on the map.
“Our era put Ozarks on the map among Arkansas track programs,” he said. “We had several fast runners and a good relay team.”
Williams became the fastest man to ever suit up for the track team at Ozarks. His fastest 100-meter time was 10.33, a record he set as a freshman. He would eventually qualify for the Olympic trials his senior season, but was unable to participate because of a knee injury. He finished his career as a three-time All-American and a three-time All-AIC performer. He would have likely been a four-time All-American if not for the injury.
“I enjoyed both the 100-meter and 200-meter, but I preferred the 100-meter because it was quick and fast,” he said. “I was stronger at the end of a race. I tried to find the weaknesses in opponents and make that my strength.”
Williams graduated from Ozarks with a physical education degree in 1984. He and his wife Lois reside in Prairieville, La. Williams is employed with Turner Industries in Baton Rouge.
A lunch honoring Williams and the other 2013 inductees will be held in the Rogers Conference Center at 11:00 a.m. January 12. The induction ceremony will take place at halftime of the women’s basketball game in Mabee Gymnasium that day. To purchase tickets for the lunch, call the alumni office at (479) 979-1234.