An athlete for all seasons
Niles West's Tommy Williams and Vaughn Monreal-Berner (left) in Skokie, Ill. on Thursday, December 20, 2012. | Jon Durr~ For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 28, 2013 2:42PM
Niles West senior Tommy Williams is trying to make the letter jacket stylish again.
Long a cherished garment for any high school athlete, the popularity of the letter jacket has waned in recent years, especially at Niles West.
But Williams, a standout in wrestling and football and a talented baseball player, said he always envisioned himself roaming the halls at the Skokie school in his letter jacket. Trends may have changed, but Williams’ dream never died.
“My dad (Mark) was a good athlete (at the former Niles East and West) and he always talked about (letter jackets) and how cool it was to wear one back in the day,” Williams said. “Since I was in the fifth grade (Niles West) feeder programs, I’ve been talking about being that kid who wore the letter jacket. When I go out and wear it, I’m proud of it.”
Williams added: “I have one of the few letter jackets (at the school). But I hope I can bring it back. I hope people see me wearing it and the trend comes back to Niles West.”
Niles West football coach Scott Baum said the rest of the school has taken note.
“(Williams) is not shy or bashful. We all know about his letter jacket,” he said.
Of course, Williams has reason to be proud of his varsity letters. When he graduates in the spring, he’s in line to be one of the few members of the senior class to have played 12 seasons, that’s four years each of football, wrestling and baseball. The school awards numbers for lower-level teams and letters for each varsity season.
Williams said his letter jacket currently features just one letter “N,” his graduation year “13” and a couple of regional championship and all-conference patches.
Through 16 matches this season on the mat, the 5-foot-9 Williams was 15-1 in the 138-pound weight class.
Last season, wrestling at 126 pounds, Williams went 26-12, won the regional title and narrowly missed qualifying for the state championships, getting pinned in a sectional match he was leading.
Williams said he believes experience and added muscle could be the keys to getting over the sectional hurdle in his final attempt this season.
Wolves head coach Anthony Genovesi said Williams is capable of a big finish to his high school wrestling career.
“He has an edge to him, a good physical edge and he’s got some funky ability,” Genovesi said. “He scrambles well. With him getting stronger, it helps him to have another edge because he’s more physical.
“It’s tough to get to state, but I think he has the capability. We just have to make sure he focuses mentally and works on the little things to improve his technique, and that he pushes to get better.”
Williams already knows something about making that extra push during one’s senior season. In the fall, he was a second-team, all-conference selection as a safety and receiver for the Wolves football team, which went 5-5 and reached the postseason for the first time in eight years.
Defensively, Williams had 55 tackles and a key pick-six in a 13-0 win over Waukegan in Week 5. He also caught 20 passes for 280 yards and two touchdowns.
“He’s taken his senior year and made the most of it,” Baum said. “This year, he’s had a real sense of urgency. He was a possession receiver with a great nose for the football on defense.”
Williams said he’s planning to play baseball again in the spring, and should find himself in left or center field for the Wolves.
After that, he hopes to wrestle, play football or do both at a smaller college. He said he has had some early discussions with Division III and NAIA schools.
Academically, Williams said he is extremely interested in business classes and has taken several in high school. He also is a part of the school’s DECA organization, and he recently won several first-place medals at a regional competition in which students were asked to solve business-related challenges.
One day, Williams said he hopes to teach business classes at a high school and coach football, wrestling and baseball. Ideally, he said, he would return to Niles West.
By that time, and thanks to Williams’ trendsetting, the school might once again be full of students wearing letter jackets.