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July 21, 2012- - Travis Williams believes he has found his true calling.
It has nothing to do with a microphone.
The former Auburn linebacker and graduate assistant is entering his first season as a position coach at Northern Iowa, where expectations are high and ideas borrowed from he Plains are revered. Life in Iowa is a far cry from Atlanta, Ga., where Williams worked as a recording artist and producer in 2011, but ultimately has been more satisfying.
"I learned so much from Gene Chizik and all the great coaches there - lessons that guide me today," Williams said. "They're top-of-the-line recruiters and organizers. I basically take what I've learned from them and do it here. It's hard work, but it's what I really want to do."
Williams found himself at a crossroads after the Tigers' win in the national championship game. He spent the 2009 and 2010 seasons earning modest pay as a graduate assistant on the Plains, but supplemented his income as a hip-hop performer. After talking with Chizik in early 2011, Williams decided to focus solely on the recording business.
So he did. Williams, stage name "T-Will," toured throughout the Southeast and threw himself into the fray. Things changed in January when UNI coach Mark Farley called the Auburn Football Complex in search of Williams.
Why was an aspiring media mogul now a hot name on the coaching circuit?
Farley was intrigued after watching a YouTube video of Williams talking with the Tigers prior to a 2010 game. That clip was enough to begin a conversation that led to a job offer in March.
"I decided that my life should be about helping people and grooming young men to be something better than they are today," Williams said. "There's no better place to reach young men than through sports. Coaches helped make me the man I am today and now I have a chance to be that coach who makes a difference. It's truly a blessing."
Williams said he still dabbles in the music business - "Some coaches golf in their free time; I record music," he said - but remains fully committed to his full-time job at Northern Iowa. Aside from coaching the Panthers' linebackers, Williams also captains the program's recruiting efforts throughout the Southeast.
He knows it's an uphill battle.
"Getting kids from the South to come to Iowa is a challenge," Williams said. "We don't even have a hip-hop station up here. It's cold in the winter. I just promote what we do best. We win a lot of games, we have great fans and great coaches. It's a great place to play football. Having been around the best at Auburn only helps me at Northern Iowa. I know what excellence looks like."