‘Last Chance U’ to CSU: The community college story

Sergio Santistevan

Independence Community College is located in the middle of nowhere, has roughly 945 total undergraduate students and offers no full-ride athletic scholarships. What ICC does have to offer is football players with one last chance to play football. For many college football players, junior colleges are last chance universities.

“Independence was probably the worst place I’ve ever lived. not probably, definitely the worst place I’ve ever lived.” -Keith Williams

Colorado State University football offensive lineman Keith Williams is no stranger to adversity. The 6-foot-7-inch redshirt junior was a three-time all-division selection and a two-time first-team All-County and All-League Selection at Overlea High School in Baltimore, Maryland. Despite his high school accolades, Williams was not heavily recruited, with his biggest scholarship offer coming from the University of Massachusetts.

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Williams, like many other Division I hopefuls, turned to the junior college route to hopefully get a chance to improve on his talent and get another chance at a Division I offer. 

However, Williams’ journey had another bump in the road, as he was turned down by a couple of junior colleges. That’s when ICC and Head Coach Jason Brown came calling.

“(Brown) was one of the only coaches that actually accepted me and brought me in,” Williams said. “I respect him a lot, and I thank him a lot for that. (He is) one of the coolest coaches I’ve ever been coached by.”

In 2015, the ICC Pirates were coming off a 2-8 season. Later that year, the school hired Brown as head coach to help reshape the image of the program. In his first season at the helm, Brown brought in a lot of talent, including Williams, and helped the program improve to a 5-4 season in 2016.

Unfortunately, Williams redshirted his freshman season and didn’t contribute to the bounce-back season, but he was able to improve on his skills. 

Colorado State University offensive lineman Keith Williams (77) talks with fellow offensive lineman Jeff Taylor (71) during football practice at the CSU Indoor Practice Facility Oct. 29. (Luke Bourland | The Collegian)

“It was just practice every day,” Williams said. “It was tough because we were in the middle of nowhere.” 

The following season, everything changed for Williams and the Pirates. Netflix’s sports television documentary, “Last Chance U,” determined ICC as their next season’s destination. After two successful seasons at East Mississippi Community College, the show decided to tell a new story in Kansas, and that’s when the cameras started rolling.

“Last Chance U” focuses on a junior college football program throughout the football season in several aspects, such as academics, growing up and players getting a scholarship.

In the 2017 season, with a Netflix camera crew following their every move, the Pirates finished their season 9-2 and reached rankings in the top 10. The Pirates’ season ended after they defeated Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the Midwest Bowl Classic.

Throughout the season, Williams caught the eye of several Division I programs, including CSU.

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“We were looking for a junior college tackle,” CSU Head Coach Mike Bobo said. “The thing about Keith (Williams) was he had three years, so we knew we had time to develop him. Recruiting him was to get to know him, get to know his family and talk about the plan.”

After receiving a scholarship offer from CSU, Offensive Line Coach Dave Johnson soon visited Williams, and the visit paid dividends. Williams committed to the Rams on a full-ride scholarship after the connection and opportunity he saw with Johnson.

“(Johnson) was teaching me, even in Coach Brown’s small office, footwork, different stance and different steps,” Williams said. “I liked all the knowledge he had, and I knew I could pick his brain.”

After two years at ICC, Williams was on his way out of the last chance university and headed to Fort Collins, Colorado.

“Independence was probably the worst place I’ve ever lived. Not probably, definitely the worst place I’ve ever lived,” Williams said. “It just builds you up for things, for adversity.”

Fellow CSU offensive lineman and junior college product T.J. Storment can relate to the adversity Williams and other junior college players have to overcome. 

Storment had several Division I offers out of high school and committed to Old Dominion University, where he spent his first two years of college after his faith led him elsewhere. After leaving Old Dominion, Storment was highly sought after by many junior colleges, and he settled for Fullerton College in California.

Colorado State University offensive lineman Keith Williams (77) poses for a portrait after football practice at the CSU Indoor Practice Facility Oct. 29. (Luke Bourland | The Collegian)

“It definitely humbles you,” Storment said. “You’re kind of on your own. You’re back to square zero. You don’t have any offers; you don’t have anything. It’s up to you to prove it.”

When CSU’s Johnson went to go scout an opposing team’s tackle against Fullerton College, he noticed Storment instead and offered him a scholarship. Storment joined Williams as another junior college lineman on the Rams’ roster. 

“Junior college football plays a key role in college football,” Bobo said. “A lot of times in junior college, you look to fill immediate needs on your football team. Just look at our roster of junior college kids.”

After seeing the field sparingly in 2018, Williams has seen the field more this season, and Bobo expects more from him in the future.

“I think with a great offseason, Keith (Williams) will have a chance to be a really big player for us,” Bobo said.

The former ICC Pirate says the Netflix series did a good job, in some ways, depicting the junior college experience. In some ways it didn’t, but he’s grateful for the relationships he’s built.

“It was fun,” Williams said. “I saw a lot of people I played with in juco and played against in juco this season. You build a lot of friendships and bonds that you will keep forever.”

Sergio Santistevan can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @TheRealsSergio.