PRICHARD, Alabama –When former Alabama football standout Sherman Williams was in prison, his Crimson Tide teammate David Palmer never lost touch with him. That’s why the two Bama offensive stars were lined up together again on a muggy day at Prichard Municipal Stadium.
Williams was on the move on the same field where he showed so many moves as a Blount running back. On Saturday, though, he was zigzagging not to avoid tacklers, but to make sure water was available, lunch was on the grill, registration was in order and the speakers were ready for the first football camp of the Palmer-Williams Group. Meanwhile, Palmer spent the day with 30 or so coaches among the hundreds of children who turned out for event, which had 6- through 11-year-olds on the field in the morning and 12- through 17-year-olds out there in the afternoon.
“Me and Sherm were roommates in college,” Palmer said. “We have a brothership. Just because he was in prison, that didn’t mean I shouldn’t be his brother. We stayed in touch.”
Palmer and Williams were teammates at Alabama from 1991 through 1993, a period that included a 33-4-1 record and the 1992 BCS national championship. Palmer left to start a seven-season NFL career with the Minnesota Vikings after earning consensus All-American honors and finishing third in the Heisman Trophy balloting in his junior season. Williams completed his Alabama career by running for 1,341 yards in 1994 before joining the Dallas Cowboys.
But Williams was found guilty on Dec. 6, 2000, by a federal jury in Mobile of one count of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and two counts of attempting to possess marijuana with intent to distribute. He also pleaded guilty to a counterfeiting charge. He got out of prison in March.
“When Sherman was locked up, we did a lot of talking,” Palmer said. “We talked about our lives, and we thought it was time for us to give back to our communities.”
From those conversations, the Palmer-Williams Group was born. The plan includes not only lots of basic football drills, but also football players who share their experiences, not all of them pleasant, with the boys.
“We’re out here trying to give back to the youth,” Palmer said, “to show some of the experiences that we had, to tell them a little about our lives and just direct them on the right path.”
For example, former Alabama and NFL players Roosevelt Patterson and Bo Wright kicked off Saturday’s event. Patterson shared how he spent five years, 10 months in prison and gave the youngsters advice on how to avoid his missteps: Listen to their parents, ask their parents to take them to church, do their best in school and tell someone when somebody tries to get them to do something they know is wrong, especially where drugs and alcohol are involved. Wright quoted Scripture, telling the youngsters they were “fearfully and wonderfully made,” then interpreted that for them, promising the kids each was one of a kind and did not have to mimic the destructive behavior they might see around them.
Palmer said the Prichard camp was a beginning for the Palmer-Williams Group.
“We’re planning to have more,” he said. “This is just the start of it. It’s going to be plenty more. We’re going to do some in Birmingham also. It just worked out that we could get the stadium right off the bat. I think this is good for the Prichard area. Sherman is from here, and we’ve got a lot of guys that played with the University of Alabama that stay down this way, so we’ve got a lot of participation and it’s a great start for us to be here.”
The group had more youngsters register than had been expected and reached out for extra sponsorship to accommodate the crowd. Sponsors for Saturday’s event included Atlanta Hot Wings and More, Blue Rents, DMT Publishing and Screen Printing, Dominic’s Barber Shop, Food for Less, Sandy Sansing Ford Lincoln and Shackle Free Marketing and Associates.
“We appreciate everybody who has helped us and would like to thank them for the opportunity,” Palmer said. “We want to show the kids they can do the same things we accomplished.”
That includes bouncing back from 15 years in prison with a determination to show youngsters a better way.
“Everything Sherm’s doing right now is very positive for himself, his family and his community,” Palmer said. “I’m very proud of him in what he’s doing.”