BRAD COLE THE ADVOCATE For most of Ryan Williams’ teenage years, basketball was his passion.
Not only did Williams love the sport, he was also talented at it, having played in championship-winning NWBU inter-town junior teams for Devonport and representing his state with distinction at underage level.
In 2005 he made his senior debut for the Warriors and slotted in very comfortably among the stars of the game – so much so he took out the team’s best and fairest award.
There was also selection in the Australian Emus under 20 squad – a squad that contained the likes of Patty Mills, Chris Goulding and Nathan Jawai, along with current AFL stars Scott Pendlebury and Todd Goldstein.
The following year saw the 194-centimetre Williams debut for the North-West Thunder and his ambition of a professional career appeared to on the right path. “When I was in that Australian Emus fold I definitely saw myself in the NBL,” Williams said.
“Because I had already played SEABL at that stage I don’t think I was eligible to go to a college because it was a semi-professional competition at the time.
“So I scrapped that idea and was looking at a professional career in Australia.”
But in 2007 something changed. Frustrated by what he felt was a lack of opportunity at the Thunder, Williams took to the football field of a Saturday with Latrobe instead.
Football had always been enjoyable for Williams, but was never taken too seriously as he still had a Tasmanian Institute of Sport scholarship for basketball and received an invitation to train with the Sydney Kings midway through the year.
However football became far more significant one afternoon at the Latrobe Recreation Ground.
“In 2007 I played half the season in the under 18s and the other half in the seniors,” he said. “I was really raw but I felt I could read a game of football similar to basketball, just on a bigger scale. “I had no idea anyone was looking at me, but Scott Clayton from the Western Bulldogs flew over to watch me play one day and met up with my dad. “My dad said the story went something like Scott saw me take a mark and go back and switch the footy, and that was enough for him to give me a go. “Next thing I got an invitation to go over to the Bulldogs and do a pre-season with them for four weeks.” Williams headed to the Whitten Oval in January 2008 to try his luck under senior coach Rodney Eade and mix it with the stars of the game. “It was a fair smack in the mouth, that’s for sure,” Williams said.
“I was in awe to walk in and see someone like Jason Akermanis, and then you’re calling him by his nickname during training drills. “The experience certainly left me knowing what I had to do if I wanted to play AFL. “I felt I was in good shape at the time, but I injured a hamstring during the four weeks which was frustrating and kept me out of training for a bit.” While the Bulldogs adventure never went any further, Williams still had options open to him to have a serious attempt at either football or basketball. “Basketball was definitely still in the mix, but I had an opportunity with football that I didn’t see coming and felt like I had to take at the time,” he said.
“From memory I don’t think I was getting pressured from either sport, but I was probably putting myself under pressure to make a decision.” It was football that won out, with Williams taking up an opportunity to move north and play with Redland in the Queensland State League. He admits that the lifestyle on offer swayed him to forgo a chance to play in a higher standard of competition.
“There was talk of an opportunity to go to the SANFL but I chose to go to Redland purely for the lifestyle – maybe it would have been better to go the other way for football purposes, but when you’re a young bloke, the Queensland option was a bit hard to pass up.” Williams said. Williams only stayed at Redland for a season, returning home in 2009 and pulling on the Devonport jumper in the TSL for two years to keep himself in the mix, and was able to combine that with playing NWBU again for the Warriors.
“When I came home, I decided to play TSL at Devonport to play in the premier competition to give myself the best chance,” Williams said. “But looking back now and being realistic, my chances were probably done.”
Basketball became the priority again in 2011 when Williams decided to join Phil Thomas at the Thunder, but after another unfulfilling year, he returned to football and spent 2012-2013 at East Devonport while also representing Devonport and Burnie in the NWBU.
The travel bug arrived again in 2014, and this time Williams headed to Victoria to join Sorrento in the Mornington Peninsula Nepean Football League under former St Kilda player Troy Schwarze.
“They were looking for a new ruckman, and through Brett McCall and Daniel Freshney, who were at East Devonport at the time, it ended up with Troy ringing me up,” Williams said.
“I had a great year there and we managed to win the flag as well which my first one at senior level.”
Another move back home saw NWBU basketball take priority as Williams was appointed playing-coach at Devonport for 2015. However, Williams’ first dip into the senior coaching waters proved unsuccessful as an injury-hit Warriors finished last with a 3-18 record.
He went back to Sorrento the next year and has been in Victoria ever since, winning another premiership with the Sharks in 2017 and playing with the club until 2019.
Williams was planning to play one last season at Rye in 2020 as an assistant coach, but the COVID-19 pandemic saw the competition abandoned last week.
“My body and mind are good, but my lifestyle now with my own painting business and being a new father meant I had to ask myself if I needed to keep playing,” the 32-year-old said.
With his sporting career now at an end, Williams looks back at what he was able to achieve with little regret despite some parts of it not working out how he would have liked.
“I was very lucky to be given a heap of opportunities, and I’ve always been a person that if an opportunity arises and I think it’s a good one for me, I grab it with both hands,” he said.
“There were plenty of challenges along the way but I look back at my career over two sports and the resume is fairly substantial and I’m pretty proud of it.
“To make it to a point where I was able to go to the top level and train with the elite players, and then play in competitions at the level underneath that like state leagues and SEABL – if I had of been able to really get one or the other and get on a list permanently it would have made the dream come true.
“Maybe others might think I made a couple of wrong decisions, but at the time I didn’t think they were and I don’t regret any of it.”