Nowhere to somewhere: Tre Williams dancing toward a dream

Arkansas defensive end Tre Williams (55) celebrates a sack during a game against Texas A&M on Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021, in Arlington, Texas.

FAYETTEVILLE — Teresa Williams-Crews thought there was an emergency taking place last Saturday that needed her attention.

In her mind, it was the most logical reason for her phone to be ringing essentially non-stop. Typically, Teresa’s phone lights up only when a client or prospective client is inquiring about a job for Maid EZ Cleaning, the 24/7 full-service cleaning and detailing business she has owned with her husband, Tony, since 2017.

In addition to the countless calls, she received a text message from a close family friend, Larry Rucker. He advised her to visit YouTube.

It was there, in a video highlighting the key plays of the game, that Teresa learned of the masterful, dominant performance her youngest son, Arkansas defensive end Tre Williams, pieced together in Arkansas’ 20-10 victory over then-No. 7 Texas A&M.

It earned high praise from CBS color analyst Gary Danielson, who labeled him the player of the game.

“You know, it makes me happy,” Teresa said. “I’m overjoyed for my child. He did something with his life. When I hear and see what he does out there, it’s just like an overflow of joy, and all I can do is thank Jesus. I’m so proud of my son.

“Only if you knew where we came from and where he’s at now. It makes me cry. There’s a door you’ve got to go through in order to understand about life. People don’t get it unless they earn it.”

On Monday, Tre won Southeastern Conference defensive lineman of the week for the first time in his career. According to Pro Football Focus, he finished with a game-high defensive grade of 85.0.

“I planned on coming here and doing everything I said I was going to do,” he said. “Just being able to dominate at end and encourage my teammates, and actually being able to see it come to life was pretty nice."

A product of humble beginnings, Williams’ relentless pursuit of opposing quarterbacks and high motor as an edge rusher is due at least in part to his upbringing in Columbia, Mo. A talented and technically sound left tackle is far down the list of toughest obstacles he has faced.

Teresa raised Tre and her children as a single mother, and the family hopped from place to place and apartment to apartment, including one in which they experienced growing mold that in 2013 led to Teresa picking up a respiratory disease.

The mold, found to be covering their furniture and clothes, forced them to collectively restart from scratch. For Teresa, who four years later was a recipient of the Columbia Daily Tribune’s Women in Business Award, the circumstances in the apartment regularly made her feel as though she was dying.

She often fell out after stepping inside, and she began losing her hair. If not for a nephew who came to her rescue after one fall, the outcome could have been grim.

In the past, Teresa has worked a pair of full-time jobs and still struggled to make ends meet. She is also all too familiar with working minimum-wage positions and relying on government assistance in order to cover basic needs.

Tre saw it all play out in front of him.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Teresa believes that her son, through it all, became driven to find a way out and better his family’s outlook.

“Sometimes you’ve got to go through to get through,” she said. “Tre had to go through and learn what he did not want to be in order to become what he is today. When you’re in the low income, there are steers who want you to do wrong, do the opposite, and Tre was determined and he sought out positive people. At the time, he didn’t have a male figure.

“A journey is a testimony, and Tre is a testimony. They better watch for him out there. I’m glad I kept my foot on his neck. There’s no instructions to parenting, so I did the best I could. I knew that I didn’t want to live on government (funds) and raise my kids in that kind of environment.

“He wanted to ensure he could be the best he could be in life.”

Upon watching the highlights of her son’s 4-tackle, 3-quarterback hurry, 2-sack outing against the Aggies, Teresa couldn’t help but think of family. Her father was a boxer in his time, and Teresa herself was a tennis player — and a good one at that if you ask her. They are the basis of Tre’s gifts, she says.

Her assessment of his play in Week 4 was that regardless of the Texas A&M lineman across the line of scrimmage from him, he “knew how to dance” and keep them guessing as to which way he would sway. That is a gift in itself.

Arkansas’ opposition in recent weeks has struggled with his aggressiveness and all-out effort. Tre has 3.5 sacks in the Razorbacks’ wins over Georgia Southern and the Aggies, and he leads the team with 4.0 sacks for the season.

He's the first Arkansas lineman with 4.0 sacks in the first four games of a season since Taiwan Johnson in 2014.

While Teresa says she is her son’s primary source of motivation, she credits former Missouri coach and current Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom for much of Tre’s growth. It takes a man to raise a man, and Odom, she added, is a football-minded version of herself.

“I’m so thankful that he allowed him to come down and be on his team,” Teresa said. “Tre has matured being under Barry. I think they’re close. He’s a strong man. Tre knows that man is not playing with him, and that’s what Tre respects — when a man stands up and will tell him that he’s wrong and give him guidance.

“Barry doesn’t slack off of him and that’s what made me like him. He needs somebody strong to deal with him. Barry Odom kicked right on in.”

Under Odom’s watch, Tre has blossomed into an every-down end rather than a third-down specialist, and he currently holds the team’s highest pass rush grade (85.6), according to PFF. Sam Pittman, too, is well aware of the 6-3, 255-pounder’s ability having faced him while the offensive line coach at Georgia.

Pittman recently joked on his radio show that he was so excited to see Tre in the NCAA transfer portal that he ran a 5.9-second 40-yard dash into Odom's office to get the ball rolling.

"I really do believe you have to build your team through the high school ranks, and I don't believe in (getting) 12 guys from the portal and all that," Pittman said. "But I do believe in winning games, and the way to do that is to get some freaky-type athletes like Tre."

Mother and son, 300 miles apart and in different states, talk and pray together often. Tre being farther away from home than ever before has been hard on Teresa, but FaceTime and video calls have been a saving grace of sorts, though she still prefers his hugs.

She will also pass along encouraging words while reminding him not everything is meant to be easy, which he understands better than most his age. It’s all part of the journey. Remaining focused on the task at hand is another consistent bit of advice.

Teresa says Tre’s goal in life has long been to one day play in the NFL. Seeing him shine in AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, against the Aggies and knowing he is on the right path has brought more than a smile to her face.

“I’m proud of him because he came out of nowhere to somewhere,” she said. “Only you can make a name for yourself. This is supposed to strengthen you for the next step in your life. I pray his next step is the dream he’s asked for.

"I wanted him to make something of himself before I close my eyes, and that’s what he’s doing. Right now, he’s full steam ahead with his fancy feet.”