Jan. 2, 2014

by Brian Gunning

The nickname "Mama's Boy" might not be a typical description for an Army football player, but for Lt. Col. Myreon Williams, the moniker is both a sense of pride and a reason for his success. The discipline and motivation instilled during his childhood are the driving forces behind the Patterson, N.J., native's achievements both on and off the athletic field.

A 1992 West Point graduate and two-time football letterwinner, Williams has built an impressive resume as a physician. Since July 2001, he has held the title of Chief of Nephrology, first at Eisenhower Army Medical Center in Georgia and currently at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany. His duties include outpatient and inpatient care of individuals with all forms of acute and chronic kidney disease, including dialysis and post-transplant care.

"I grew up in a household with a lot of discipline," Williams says. "The rules were initially stated, but became understood. Mom usually talked a lot more, but both her and Dad were enforcers. I knew where I stood throughout my childhood. I still reflect on that, and I think I got exactly what any teenager needs -- a lot of love and a lot of discipline."

Williams' home environment was reinforced during his academic career. During his elementary school days, he attended St. Joseph's Elementary, a private school right across the parking lot from Eastside High School, made famous by the movie "Lean on Me." The film depicted then-principal Joe Clark's efforts to instill pride and discipline in order to save the failing school. Clark's success in changing the culture allowed Williams to attend the school and excel both academically and athletically.

"Up until the sixth grade, my mother's intent was to send me to a private, boys' high school," Williams says. "Everyone in town knew what the reputation of the high school was. It was a very violent place with drugs and a lot of unruly behavior. He (Joe Clark) cleaned it up pretty fast, and by the time I reached the end of seventh grade, I got the `All-Clear!' from my parents to go to Eastside. I wanted to go there because it had a comprehensive athletic program with track and football, which is something I probably wouldn't have been able to do elsewhere."

Williams lettered twice as a quarterback at Eastside and earned three varsity letters for the track and field team. He captained both squads during his scholastic career. While being recruited to play football at schools such as the University of New Hampshire and the University of Minnesota, Williams again relied on the discipline and values instilled by his family to make his college decision and accept an appointment to West Point.

"The defining moment in choosing West Point came when I considered the structure of the Academy after visiting there," Williams recalls. "I could foresee a great structure for an 18-year-old who was trying to figure out what to do in life. I knew I wanted to do something positive, but was not exactly sure what that was. I visited several other schools that were very good schools, but it didn't seem like they were environments that were conducive to my growth. West Point just seemed like a perfect fit."

While the Academy's structure would eventually allow Williams that growth he was searching for, it took a year for him to become completely comfortable in the West Point environment. After playing quarterback with the junior varsity squad during his "Plebe" season and through spring practice, Williams decided to leave the football program in an effort to improve his academic standing and become better ingrained in West Point life. Luckily for both Williams and the Black Knights, he reconsidered his decision and rejoined the team for preseason practice as a "Yearling."

"I actually quit after spring football my `Plebe' year," Williams says. "I spent all of Camp Buckner as a non-corps squad athlete. I did that because I felt my grades were sub-standard, and I thought I needed some more room to adjust to Academy life and think more clearly about what I wanted to do. I felt like football didn't quite fit into my mindset. I was reassured by the football coaches and upperclassmen, and I decided to give it another try. I was able to incorporate football and academics. I got off the ground and never looked back in terms of playing sports and participating in Academy life."

Williams spent the 1989 campaign quarterbacking the junior varsity team, and heading into his "Cow" season the chances for playing time didn't look promising. The depth chart included senior Bryan McWilliams, who had started 18 games, including Army's showing in the 1988 John Hancock Sun Bowl, junior Willie McMillian, who ran for 433 yards and four touchdowns in 1989, and senior Otto Leone, who started twice during the 1988 season. It was during spring practice in 1990 that head coach Jim Young approached Williams about a switch to wide receiver.

In an offense that averaged less than six pass attempts per game, Williams received honorable mention All-East honors. He caught 13 passes for 434 yards and hauled in five of the Black Knights' six touchdown passes. His 33.4 yards per catch still stands as an Army single-season record for receivers with at least 10 receptions.

While preparing to play a similar role as a "Firstie," the quarterback depth chart began to thin out and it became apparent that Williams might be needed back under center. It wasn't long before Williams was leading the huddle.

"Going into my senior year, the depth chart at quarterback almost instantaneously vanished," Williams says. "It was just Willie McMillan and two `Plebes.' Both the freshmen blew out their knees before the season started so I was the starting receiver and backup quarterback at the same time. Willie blew his knee out in the third game against Harvard, and after that I finished out the season at quarterback."

Not only did Williams have to take over the offense against the Crimson, but he entered the game with the Black Knights trailing 20-7. Not missing a beat, he guided Army to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, scoring the game-winner himself on a three-yard run with just 1:03 left. He finished the season as the squad's leading rusher with 924 yards.

"It all happened so fast during the Harvard game that I didn't get a chance to think about it," Williams remembers with a laugh. "After that, when the smoke cleared and I had time to think about it, it was a bit tougher to adjust to the weekly planning and all of formations and reads. It was a lot different than being a receiver. It was tough trying to re-adjust to that level of quarterbacking. With the junior varsity, you put a couple of plays together and ran on instinct. At the varsity level, it is a different game. By the middle of the season, I got a bit more comfortable and started playing a lot better."

Williams' success through adversity was no surprise to his teammates. Known as a quiet, but respected presence in the locker room, the versatile Williams solidified his position as a team captain.

"He was selfless, a true absolute teammate," said Lt. Col. (ret.) Mike McElrath, the Black Knights' all-time leading tackler, says. "A perfect example was him switching positions. He was going to do whatever he had to in order to help the team so he transitioned to receiver, and then three games into his senior year Willie McMillian goes down. We were scrambling for a quarterback and Myreon stepped up. That's who he was. He was definitely a quiet leader, but he had everyone's respect. When he talked, you listened."

Williams' athletic success was only part of his West Point experience. While returning from spring break as a "Yearling," he began to contemplate his choice of major. He had not given it much thought before, but it did not take very long to come to the conclusion that would shape the rest of his life. Once decided, Williams became locked in on achieving his goal.

"My decision to go into medicine was a bit of an epiphany," Williams says. "We had to choose our majors coming back from spring break our `Yearling' year, and I hadn't given it a whole lot of thought. My strengths were math and science, and I am really into helping people. The instant conclusion was that I wanted to be a physician. It happened in a matter of 10 or 15 minutes of the 45-minute drive back to West Point. Thereafter, that is all I was focused on. I immediately went to the medical school counselor and tried to find out what the field of study was to prepare for medical school. To this day, I don't regret that decision. I love what I do."

After Williams graduated with his bachelor's degree in Life Sciences, the newly commissioned officer headed to Howard University College of Medicine. After two years in Washington, personal circumstances caused him to transfer to the University of South Carolina, where he completed his education in 1996. Williams moved to Georgia to begin an internship in internal medicine at Eisenhower Medical Center. He also completed a two-year internal medicine residency at the facility. Following a two-year nephrology fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Williams returned to Eisenhower as the Chief of Nephrology in July 2001. He would hold that position for 10 years before moving to Landstuhl in July 2011.

Included in those 11 years were two deployments to Afghanistan -- a seven-month stay from January to July 2006 as an internist at the 14th Combat Support Hospital at Bagram Airbase and a nine-month stint from May 2009 to January 2010 as a squadron surgeon for the 3-71st Cavalry.

"To put it in perspective, the combat support hospital is considered Echelon 3 and Landstuhl is considered Echelon 4." Williams explains. "Echelon 3 means it's kind of like a functional hospital but on a smaller scale. As a squadron surgeon, that's a field surgeon at Echelon 1. You're on the front line, and it's a very austere environment. There aren't functional labs or radiographs, just a lot of IV fluids, antibiotics, tourniquets, bandages and keeping your head down. I gained a lot of insight about that level of combat medicine. I had to put in practice things that I really didn't expect that I would have to at that stage of my career. It allowed me to get a perspective about pretty austere combat medicine. That is something you just can't get anywhere else. It's real-time, attacks and fresh injuries. You really have to deal with having a lower level of capabilities and work with what you have."

Through all of his experiences on the football field, serving on the front line in Afghanistan, and helping patients recover from their health issues, Williams still goes back to where it all started for perspective.

"I consider myself a `Mama's Boy,'" Williams says. "I maintain a very close relationship with Mom, and I try to visit as much as possible. It gives me a warm and very comfortable feeling just being able to be Myreon again, not lieutenant colonel, not doctor, just her son. That's nice. I need that from time to time."

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