COLUMBUS -- Brent Williams was raised by his mother with love and Michigan football. In his family, the young ones were expected to know the words to "The Victors" before they could recite the alphabet.
"Everyone knew the fight song since they were 2 years old," said Williams, who grew up in Flint, Mich.
Yet there was the former University of Toledo football star decked in scarlet at Ohio Stadium this month, blended in with the faithful for Ohio State's home opener. Williams, an All-Mid American Conference defensive tackle in 1985 who played 11 seasons in the NFL, had an unlikely connection to his former archenemy.
Two of his boys -- one his son and the other a godson he cares for as his own -- are freshmen for the 16th-ranked Buckeyes.
Linebacker Camren Williams (6-foot-1, 225 pounds) and safety Armani Reeves (5-10, 194) were best friends in suburban Boston who just happened to become the top recruits in Massachusetts -- two of the most heralded players in the country at their position.
They committed to Penn State last season, then backed off their pledge just before signing day in the wake of the turmoil there. The former Michigan fans were given the hard sell by Wolverines assistant Fred Jackson, the same coach who lured Brent Williams to Toledo three decades earlier, but ultimately chose -- gasp -- the Buckeyes.
"I think I'm able to go back to family reunions," Brent Williams said with a laugh. "I'm not sure. If anyone ever questioned if I was a father that was too involved or too much in control, then know that the only game my family is required to watch every year is the Michigan-Ohio State game."
Now, Williams added, "I'm the biggest Ohio State fan in the world."
If his boys are not expected to contribute much beyond special teams this season, they are considered bedrock pieces for Ohio State's future.
Brent Williams said he knew the pair was different from a young age.
His older son, Camren, had a beautiful football mind. Camren was not old enough to watch his father play in the NFL. But he said, "I always wanted to be just like him."
Brent relied as much on drive and smarts as his talent to star for Toledo, including the 1984 MAC champions under coach Dan Simrell, and play 11 seasons in the NFL -- eight for the New England Patriots -- despite being picked in the seventh round of the 1986 draft.
Alongside his father, Camren would watch games with an analytical eye ... in elementary school.
"He would say, 'Why is the defense in Cover 2? Why don't they keep the safety in the middle of the field. They keep killing them up the seam,'" Brent said. "The kid's 9 years old and he's talking about the Cover 2."
That insight translated to Friday nights, where by Williams' senior season at Catholic Memorial High, he was billed by SuperPrep as the top overall prospect in the Northeast Region.
"He knows everyone's responsibility and is able to apply what he learns from the playbook probably faster than any player I've ever played with at any level," Brent said.
Reeves, meanwhile, was the best little athlete Brent had ever seen. A first cousin of former NBA star Charles Barkley, Reeves had just moved with his mother, Victoria, from Alabama to Easton, Mass., when they first met at the tryouts for a fourth-grade travel basketball team. At one point during the scrimmage, Reeves leaped clear over a ducking shooter, landed, and recoiled to block the shot.
Reeves made the team and found a friend he would soon call his brother and a mentor in Brent, who also grew up in a single-parent house. He came to love two families, sleeping over at the Williams' house so many nights that he became one of their own. Brent and his wife, Jacquelin, included Reeves on every family vacation.
"Armani, depending on what was cooking at what house would depend on where he would stay that night," Brent said.
"It's not really two families; just one big family," Reeves said. "It's a blessing for me, because growing up I didn't have a father and [Williams] stepped in that role and became a father to me. He really led me in the right direction as a man."
With a 40-inch vertical leap and a time of 4.4 seconds in the 40-yard dash, Reeves developed into the nation's sixth-ranked cornerback per Scout.com. It became clear he and Williams, both members of the National Honor Society, could play football together virtually anywhere they wanted.
"The goal was not just to go to school together but find a school that fit both of us individually," Camren Williams said. "Hopefully, that would end up being the same school."
It did at Penn State, then OSU. Williams signed on first. The Buckeyes had a need at linebacker and he felt comfortable with the staff, including defensive line coach Mike Vrabel, who lived in Easton when he played for the Patriots. Reeves committed 10 days later, sold on OSU over Michigan in part because of the family's relationship with Everett Withers. The safeties coach spent last season as the interim coach at North Carolina, where the Williams' older son, Brennan, is a senior offensive tackle expected to be selected in the first two rounds of next year's draft.
For all involved, it was a lesson in how quickly loyalties can change.
"This a dream come true for us," Reeves said. "God worked out a lot of things for us."
Contact David Briggs at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.
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