Hours before the first event of the New Mexico Cherry and Silver Collegiate Invitational in January, Georgia true freshman Kendell Williams turned to her comfort food.
One cinnamon raisin bagel, half a glass of orange juice and a bowl of Frosted Flakes cereal.
The bitter orange juice blurred the UGA track athlete’s reservations and calmed her nerves most.
The invitational came near the start of her collegiate career and would set the precedent for her record-setting season.
Later that morning, Williams waited in the metal stands with her older brother and sophomore UGA teammate Devon Williams. Her brother blasted his music through his red and black headphones while Williams waited in silence. For her, silence is full of noise. Silence is incumbent of the ideas, thoughts, dreams and anxieties that race through her mind.
For Williams, a shot from the starting gun pauses that state of silence. After the gun fires, her mind is much more focused.
“I think all the emotion is before I’m running,” said Williams, a Marietta native. “I try to get myself really pumped and anxious to start. I think when I have that nervous energy flowing, it helps me run faster.
“While I’m running, it’s like I have to go faster, I have to go faster, I have to go faster — that’s what I always tell myself when I’m running.”
Now, in April of her rookie year, Williams holds the collegiate and world junior pentathlon records with 4,635 points. She is also the 2014 NCAA indoor champion (pentathlon) and 2014 Southeastern Conference Freshman Field Athlete of the Year (Indoor). Williams is competing at the Bulldog Decathlon, which began Thursday in Athens.
At the January invitational — only her second meet as a Bulldog — Williams won the pentathlon and set an American junior record with a total of 4,302 points. The previous record was set in 2005 by Penn State’s Gayle Hunter with 4,059 points.
As the 2012-2013 Gatorade National Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year, Williams is no stranger to running fast and setting records.
She graduated from Kell High School in May 2013 with 11 state high school titles and was the GHSA high-point scorer for all four years of her high school career.
Now a collegiate athlete, Williams is away from her home, her extensive list of high school accolades and her beloved father-daughter coaching relationship.
Yet she continues to set records and exudes a matchless humility. These changes have become the stepping stones for Williams to build a her legacy at Georgia.
“Obviously, look at her results, she has adjusted very well and very quickly,” Georgia multi-events coach Petros Kyprianou said.
Despite juggling multiple offers from Division I programs and official visits to LSU and Florida, Williams selected Georgia with no hesitation. Kyprianou played a large role in Williams’ decision to attend Georgia.
“I like Petros because he is patient and technical,” Williams said. “He knows how to coach ‘dad-coached kids’ if that makes sense.”
She began track and field at 7 years old. Williams’ father, Blane Williams, coached her for more than 10 years with the East Cobb Track Club and the Heat Track Club.
Williams said it was crucial to find a college team with the dynamic she was used to.
“It’s different,” Williams said. “When my dad was training me, my dad pushed me but still wanted to be dad. With Petros, I have to fight through it.”
Kyprianou convinced Williams and her parents that he could take her skill to the next level. Part of Kyprianou’s credibility stemmed from his relationship with the Williams family.
“Petros met my sister when he recruited me,” said Devon, Kendell’s brother.
Devon’s presence in Athens and on the track team is another link of comfort to fuel and motivate Williams.
“It’s good to have someone right there to hang out and go to the dining hall with,” Williams said. “My brother keeps me grounded and motivated here.”
Williams plans to follow her role model Jackie Joyner-Kersee’s footsteps to the Olympics one day soon.
“The Olympics, that is her long-term goal,” said Blaine, Kendell’s father.
Her brother, reasonable commute to home and coach provide the same comfort that her Frosted Flakes, orange juice and lucky socks provide.
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.