It was the most excited I had ever been for a Division 1 vs. Division 3 game.
The Buffalo Bulls were taking on the St. John Fisher Cardinals on December 11, 2021. 1:00 tip. An official attendance of just under 2,000. In my mind though, Buffalo’s Alumni Arena should’ve been sold out. Why? Because the Cardinals were not your ordinary Division 3 team. Well, maybe they were for the most part. But there was one exception.
The hype had been building for months.
Over the past couple of years, I had obtained the privilege of securing an “internship” of sorts with the Buffalo athletic department. I was given a couple of easy tasks to do in exchange for sitting in the press box for football and just off press row for men’s basketball. A pretty sweet opportunity if you ask me. Thus, I got to watch all home football and men’s basketball games with the university’s athletic communications department. Talk was usually limited, with the department having their own in-game jobs to do.
However, on November 17, 2021, there was one topic I couldn’t let slide.
St. John Fisher College, Forward 2021-2025 pic.twitter.com/qEIuEh0DOd
— Random College Athletes (@RandomAthletess) November 10, 2021
A man by the name of Connor Williams had just been posted by @RandomAthletess on Twitter and was noticed by a few check-marked accounts in the process.
For good reason. Connor was a Division 3 basketball player taking the court at listed metrics of 7’0”, 360 pounds. He wouldn’t look too out of place in a WWE Championship match taking on John Cena. Yet, both in high school and his short college career, he hadn’t looked out of place on courts and fields either. After doing my own research, I discovered that Connor was a dual-sport athlete at Victor High School in Rochester, NY, a school I personally knew well and that not only was he a four-year varsity basketball player, he had also played three years of football as well. Oh, and he was good at both sports too, turning down multiple Division 2 football offers to play basketball for St. John Fisher. The reigning Monroe County Basketball Player of The Year was staying home to continue playing the sport that he loved.
On this November night, with Buffalo football taking on Northern Illinois, I expressed my sneaky excitement for the St. John Fisher game and brought up Connor to members of the athletic department, all of whom hadn’t heard the name before. One member said something that I agreed with, which remained in my head all the way through the game over a month later.
“Why hasn’t this guy been seen by Barstool yet? They’d love him.”
Flash forward to December 11th. Buffalo knocks off the Division 3 Cardinals by a score of 100-58 in front of a meager Alumni Arena crowd of just under 2,000. Connor Williams logs 4 minutes and records 2 assists.
The box score and what I saw on the court, however, were two entirely different stories.
By the time I got home from the game that night, I had noticed accounts beginning to pick up on the big man. Pictures of Williams and clips of both of his assists had begun to make the rounds on Twitter, with a few major media outlets being part of the mix. However, as I scrolled through social media, I noticed that no one had a full highlight I had witnessed from press row just hours before.
If you haven’t seen the clip (or don’t want to watch the links to it I’ll provide later), let me explain it in words. With just under 8 minutes remaining, Buffalo up 76-49, Williams inbounds the ball and jogs down the court. As he approaches the three-point line, he gets tangled in Buffalo forward Ty Perry’s foot and tumbles onto the ground, resulting in a concerned groan from the Buffalo audience. He gets back up, walking with an obvious limp but unable to admit defeat on the play just yet. He walks just above the top of the key, to the spot where he had fallen just seconds earlier, takes a pass, keeps the ball above his head, and delivers an absolute strike of a pass to teammate Daniel Cook, who promptly dunks the ball, getting an and-1 opportunity in the process.
In 19 seconds, this clip shows the fall and immediate redemption of one person, and can really represent a lot more than just basketball if you think about it in a certain way. Or maybe that’s just the AP Literature in me talking, I don’t know. Either way, it was an amazing sequence to watch, and once I noticed that Connor Williams’ story was beginning to be told without the full highlight as a chapter, I knew that I had to post that play.
I didn’t even care that the recording was far from professional, a teenager recording off his phone onto a video being played on his old laptop. I just wanted it up, if just to give it a chance of reaching some people. So, I waited, thinking 10K views would be considered a success.
Then the big accounts came.
The trip. The limp. The DIME.
A true redemption story in 20 seconds. I can’t get enough of Connor Williams pic.twitter.com/9Ti9kaUst8
— Fundamentally Sound (@FundamentallySD) December 11, 2021
I’m in deep negotiations with him as we speak https://t.co/prG3NZAdQA
— Dave Portnoy (@stoolpresidente) December 11, 2021
Life knocks you down sometimes.
— Overtime (@overtime) December 11, 2021
When it was all said and done, my clip hit 7.1 million views on Twitter, with Overtime’s repost of it on Instagram gaining another 10.4 million. Add in the numerous TikTok, Instagram, and YouTube accounts who used it, and after doing some mental math, this Division 3 highlight has between 30-35 million views.
This clip has led to a Barstool deal for Williams, a post on the Instagram of ESPN’s SportsCenter, and 46 thousand new Instagram followers. “Big Cozy”, as he’s known, has now blossomed into one of the biggest, if not the biggest, Division 3 athlete in the nation.
The gentle giant has grabbed the attention of many, with some thanks to a 17-year old who happened to capture a moment that not many others had seen.
No one will remember the recorder of the video, but I’m sure as hell going to try my best to make sure a lot of people know.
And when they remember that one video I’m talking about, of the big guy, never giving up, it will be Connor Williams taking everyone’s attention away from me. I could care less, though. I got my 10 seconds of partial fame, 10 seconds more than I had ever imagined at this point in my life. I hyped him up, he delivered, and now we can both reap the benefits.
So thank you, Big Cozy. Your developing athletic story is one that I, and many others, will never forget.