DSHS football springs practice DJ Williams CJ Johnson

Denham Springs wide receiver DJ Williams looks back at defensive back CJ Johnson as he nears the end zone during spring practice.

DENHAM SPRINGS - Denham Springs’ senior wide receiver DJ Williams understands the rebuilding process of a football program.

It’s served as a character builder in high school and a challenge Williams will once again embrace in college after committing Friday to Northwestern State following an unofficial visit to the school.

“We’ve been doing our best to turn it around,” Williams said of Denham Springs, which overcame a flood-ravaged 3-6 season to post a 6-5 mark in the first season under coach Bill Conides in 2017. “Coach Conides has led us in a good direction and so is the coach (Brad Laird) for Northwestern. I feel like it will be good for me to go to that school because we’ll be building and our mentality is to get other people around me to step up and do the same.”

Williams doesn’t plan to sit around and wait to exhibit his leadership skills.

Laird, who has been at the Natchitoches school for nine seasons, is entering his first year as head coach where the former Demons quarterback has designs on helping his alma mater reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.

“It’s just made for me to be a leader and it’s time for me to step up,” Williams said. “It’s going to be the next level and I want to show that I can be that one who steps up as a freshman.”

The relationship between Williams and Northwestern State has developed since the 6-foot-1, 183-pounder visited the school unofficially for the first time five months ago.

DSHS football springs practice Bill Conides DJ Williams

Denham Springs coach Bill Conides instructs wide receiver DJ Williams during spring practice.

Williams was in town with his basketball teammates for a Class 5A state playoff game against Natchitoches Central, then returned a couple of months later to attend NSU’s spring game.

NSU was among three in-state schools to offer a scholarship along with McNeese State and Southeastern Louisiana.

“Whenever I went there I just knew that was the place I wanted to be,” Williams felt after his trip for the spring game. “The coaches were superb, the atmosphere and people were just awesome. They treated me just like I was there forever. I just knew that was the place I wanted to be.”

Williams said he noticed an immediate connection with Laird and wide receivers coach Alvin Slaughter.

“He coached with a lot of emotion,” Williams said of Laird.

“I like a coach that’s not scared to criticize you because he cares and wants to get you better. He cares for the better of the team. I felt like he cared for me as a person.”

NSU’s spread offense will contain some elements of an up-tempo approach, very similar to the one Conides has introduced at Denham Springs where Williams has flourished.

Williams, a first-team All-Parish selection last season, caught 27 passes for 406 yards (15 yards per catch) with 4 touchdowns in his second season as a starter. He’s also a starting guard on the Yellow Jackets basketball team which went 21-10 last season.

“I feel like I’m going to transition into another tempo offense, just with different plays,” he said. “I feel like I’m going to catch on because I’m used to the tempo.”

Williams said his latest visit to NSU, complete with a tour of both the campus’ academic and athletic facilities, sealed the deal.

“I felt like the place was just awesome,” he said. “I saw a lot of people like the players. They weren’t scared to give you tips if you wanted some on the college level. I got to be around a lot of great players, especially (LSU transfer of West Feliciana) Jazz Ferguson. He helped me a lot.”

Laird was apparently caught a little off guard by Williams’ choice to offer his commitment on the spot.

“I just told him I loved the program, loved what he was doing,” he said. “I love where the program’s headed. His face lit up. He was surprised. He told me he was going to be proud to have me on his team and it would be great to play here. That they would treat me like family.”

“I’m 100 percent locked in,” he said. “That’s the school I want to play. I’m not interested in any other school as of now. Their academics are amazing and that’s ultimately what comes first.”