COLUMBIA —It took Josh Williams less than four hours to take on a name his father has been called for 16 years.
The Hickman junior linebacker's father, Roderick Williams, is a pastor. But while the father needed a lifetime of commitment to be called a preacher, his son just needed a crowded bus. Many universities hold seven-on-seven tournaments for high schools in the region, and during a drive back from a summer tournament, Josh Williams earned his nickname.
"We were coming back from Kansas State, and he was a sophomore," Hickman coach Jason Wright said. "We were doing a seven-on-seven, and his mouth ran nonstop from Manhattan to Columbia. So I started giving him the nickname ‘Preacher', because the man likes to talk."
When asked about the name, Josh Williams cracks a smile.
"It just helps that my dad is a pastor," he said. "Normally it's because I talk a lot."
While Williams's father took the traditional avenue to earn his title, he says the "Preacher" moniker isn't far off for his son either.
"He has the gift of gab," Roderick Williams said. "He's always been very talkative. I think the name fits him well."
As a sophomore last season, Josh Williams was never short on words, but his message was often lost among the more experienced voices heard on a Hickman defense that had seven All-District players. This year, Josh Williams is making noise that has been impossible to ignore.
After anchoring the middle of the Kewpies defense for the first four games, Josh Williams broke out on offense last week with two rushing touchdowns in Hickman's 41-7 victory over Rock Bridge. Wright saw flashes of Josh Williams's talent last year, but said this year, people have seen what he is truly capable of.
"Last year he was a guy that was making plays but he wasn't noticed because of the great players we had," Wright said. "This year, I knew what he could do, it was just a matter of him stepping up his play and his leadership. That's what I enjoy most, is watching him step up and evolve and become a great leader and great player."
Josh Williams played on both the offense and defense last year but didn't get many carries because of the stellar backfield of Rob Heath and Tucker Bounds. This season, Josh Williams is becoming an aggressive, power runner in a diverse Kewpies rushing game that usually features five or six different ball carriers a game.
Josh Williams maintains he is a linebacker first and a running back second. But despite his defensive loyalty, there is no denying his impact. His versatility has a lot to do with the physical skill set he brings to the field. At 6 feet tall and 225 pounds, he has the frame to be a dominant linebacker and the quickness to be effective at running back.
At the 6A level at which Hickman competes, this combination is rare, no matter a player's size. Both positions take physical tolls that are unmatched by any other skill position on the field. Wright thinks it's Josh Williams's heart, rather than the rest of his body, that allows him to take the pounding.
"It's very difficult to do," Wright said. "You look at all the good backs, all the good running backs, quarterbacks, they're playing one of the side of the ball. For him to do that, for him to buy in, it talks about his character."
That character can also be seen in the way that Josh Williams prepares. Playing more running back has allowed him to better understand the position. He thinks this knowledge will give him an edge in chasing down opposing runners on Friday nights.
"It makes it easier to see what some of the running back's tendencies are," Josh Williams said. "If you have some of the same tendencies then you know what you need to do to stop them."
Josh Williams's father still claims it's his son's passion for the game that remains his greatest strength.
"Joshua has a love for football," Roderick Williams said. "He's had it since second or third grade. I can't explain it."
Wright is hoping the rest of his defense can continue to feed off that passion and practice what Josh Williams preaches.
"I firmly believe that you've got to play the game on emotion," Wright said. "When he makes plays, hopefully it can be a contagious thing. That's what we're hoping to do."