National Signing Day

Lewisville’s Arkevian Williams building a future at Apprentice School

bmccormick@heraldonline.comFebruary 6, 2013 

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    The (Columbia) State

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— A simple childhood fascination has steered Arkevian Williams toward a two-mile long shipyard in the Tidewater region of Virginia, and a future rich in promise.

The Lewisville High School senior will sign a national letter of intent on Wednesday to attend and play football at the Newport News Apprentice School, located in Newport News, Va. It’s a one-of-a-kind trade school that prepares students for a job in the port’s massive dry dock piecing together aircraft carriers and submarines that are sold to the United States Navy. Students don’t have to accept the job with Huntington Ingalls Industries that is offered following graduation; in fact, the acquired skills could open up a whole world of employment possibilities.

“I always wondered how they made roller coasters,” said Williams on Monday. “I loved roller coasters when I was little.”

The wonder that Williams experienced on visits to Carowinds and Six Flags theme parks as a curious child led him to find out that welding was the glue that made the enthralling attractions possible. During high school, the 5-foot-11, 280-pound defensive lineman developed proficiency in the trade by taking classes at the Chester County Career Center. A football coach asked if he’d ever heard of Apprentice School. Williams’ immediate interest was quickly reciprocated by the school once they saw football highlights.

When Williams arrives in Newport News, he will embark on an aggressive four- or five-year apprenticeship for which he will be fully paid, while also becoming a master welder, and playing football for coach Paul Hoffmann and the aptly-named Builders.

“Admission to the Apprentice School is in fact being hired by the largest company in the state of Virginia to be in a highly structured management trainee program,” Hoffmann explained, referencing Huntington Ingalls, which uses the school as a feeder program. “A kid’s got a start on a career similar to someone who might go into the military.”

Williams will either go to school or work at the shipyard (days alternate) from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. five days a week. He then will have football practice in the afternoon.

“It is very demanding,” Hoffmann said. “One of the biggest issues that our kids face is meeting the demands industry places on their attendance, which is very different from what somebody might be expected of in high school.”

Unlike a normal four-year college, attendance at Apprentice School isn’t optional. It’s just like a job, and Williams will be just like an adult. The school has no dormitories or cafeterias, so players live on their own and take care of themselves with the money they earn from work.

“It’s gonna be pretty hard on me,” Williams said Monday afternoon. “I got to be responsible and keep studying. You’re really grown up there; it ain’t like high school.”

But as Hoffmann said, “the payoff can be absolutely tremendous.”

For starters, Williams will be paid – pretty well in fact – the entire time he’s in school. Student-athletes can earn money because Apprentice School isn’t a member of NCAA, though the Builders still compete against local NCAA schools. While the effort during the four or five years of schooling is immense, the student emerges equipped with mastery in a skilled trade, which sets up a life of lucrative employment opportunities.

Plus, should the student take a job with Huntington Ingalls, there’s the satisfaction of being involved with the construction of a $4 billion aircraft carrier or a cutting edge nuclear submarine. That resonated with Williams.

“A ship can last a long time,” he said. “You can feel very proud about it.”

Williams’ coach at Lewisville, Will Mitchell, is certain that his player will make the grade at Apprentice School, on the gridiron and in the spark-filled shipyard.

“I’m not sure I’ve ever had a kid that was a better fit for them,” said Mitchell. “The thing about Newport News, as soon as you get there, you’re in the workplace. You have a 40-hour week, and he’s as ready for that maturity-wise as any kid I’ve had. Very even-keeled, very serious minded.”

Mitchell believes his player is ready to contribute to the Builders’ success on the football field too. Williams was named to the High School Sports Report’s Class A All-State football team after an active season in which he made 75 tackles – 19 for loss – had eight sacks, eight quarterback pressures and forced three fumbles.

Mitchell, hired by Lewisville last year, wasn’t sure Williams would be able to get into the shape his up-tempo program requires. But the big lineman’s maturity showed through.

“He proved me wrong very quickly,” said Mitchell. “He was a kid that really bought into what we were doing in the summer, really got himself in some shape and was a dominant force for us on the defensive front.”

Williams was one of the best Mitchell has had at generating force with his hands to gain leverage over blockers in the trenches. He lined up right over center during high school, and will likely do the same at the college level, using his squat stature and power to uproot opposing linemen out of his way.

“If he was 6-foot-3, Division I schools would be in here talking to him. ... I expect him to go up there and play right away,” said Mitchell.

Williams has the advantage of already knowing he’ll study welding. There are 18 craft programs at Apprentice School, including but not limited to coatings specialist, shipfitter, rigger, molder, patternmaker, and millwright, and seven advanced programs that include gigs like advanced shipyard operations, production planner and nuclear test technician.

“Most people they interview, they don’t know what trade they’re gonna be in,” he said.

Knowing what you want to do in life is hard enough for a college graduate, let alone a high-schooler. But clarity of vision seems to be a rare gift with which Williams has been blessed.

“I’m doing two things I love to do, welding and football,” said Williams. “Can’t beat that.”

It won’t be as easy as that. There will be sweaty, tired days. Certainly Williams will miss facets of home too, especially “my momma cooking me dinner,” he said, chuckling. “I’m gonna miss my family, but if you stay away long enough, you’ll get used to it.”

Williams has already picked up the complicated trade of welding, and has far-sighted future plans that vastly outdistance the normal teenager’s. He can probably figure out ramen noodles, too.

Bret McCormick •  329-4032; Twitter: @BretJust1T

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