Jamie Williamson thought his football career was over.
The former high school football star had been the starting quarterback for the 2000 state champion Silver Bluff Bulldogs. He accepted a scholarship to Catawba College in North Carolina in 2002, then transferred to Coastal Carolina after two years.
That's when Williamson had to give up his dream.
"At that point, my mom had some financial trouble, and I came home to help," he said. "I thought my football career was over then, but everybody kept pushing me. I saw an ad in the paper to play local football, so I made the phone call."
That call was the rebirth of Williamson's football career.
On the other end was Jimmy Cronan, the owner of a local semiprofessional football team based in Grovetown called the Georgia Ragin' Bulls.
After an afternoon tryout session, Williamson earned a spot on the team and has wowed Ragin' Bulls fans ever since.
"He's our team leader," Cronan said. "He can throw the ball 70-some yards flat-footed, and he's a runner. A running quarterback is something you've got to have. It opens the offense up so much more."
Williamson did just that through the 2006 season. Starting in late August, the first-year North American Football League team breezed past one opponent after another en route to a 9-1 regular season.
After a first-round win in the playoffs, Williamson had one of his best performances in the second round against Florida's undefeated Panhandle Tigers at a second-round playoff game at Augusta Christian's Pride Valley.
With the season on the line, the Ragin' Bulls trailed 12-8 with under a minute left in the game. Williamson drove the team inside the Tigers' 30-yard line, where he found teammate Antwaun Carter on a 28-yard touchdown pass with 39 seconds left to win the game and advance to the NAFL D-II quarterfinals.
"I remember in the huddle before the play the offensive line said, 'This is why you're the franchise player. Make something happen,'" Williamson said.
"I dropped back, then started to run, but one of the Panhandle guy's cut me off. Then I saw Antwaun up the middle with his hand up. Yeah, it was the game of my life," he said.
The win put the Ragin' Bulls in the quarterfinals, where they lost Saturday to the Louisiana Hurricanes 36-18.
The Ragin' Bulls finished the year with an 11-2 record, but Cronan said his mission isn't just wins and losses, and Williamson's story proves it.
"That's exactly what we're trying to establish. These local guys are some of the best athletes I've seen, and we want to give them a place to play," he said. "I don't understand how colleges missed some of these guys."
Cronan said the players don't receive payment for playing, which keeps them NCAA eligible. He also has played an active role in giving his post-college players a shot at the next level.
Ragin' Bulls running back Carter, formerly a star tailback at Boise State, recently signed with the Amarillo Dusters, an Arena Football League 2 team. Cronan said he's sending six more players to visit colleges around Georgia and South Carolina.
As for Williamson, he was chosen as the starting quarterback for the NAFL all-star game Nov. 12. After that, he'll set his sights on the NFL.
"I would like to go to an NFL combine, and show them what I'm capable of doing," he said. "If not there, I'd like to play for the (Augusta) Spartans."
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