PAOLA — Every young boy dreams of being the high school quarterback. Few dream of doing the things Paola senior Garrett Williams did with the Panthers.
Williams led Paola to an undefeated Frontier League championship this season and a regional crown. He was 21-1 as a starter in his career.
Williams completed 43 of 89 passes this season for 793 yards and eight touchdowns. He ran the ball 106 times for 712 yards and 19 touchdowns.
He is a not just a winner on the field, but also in the classroom, the high school and the community, Paola coach Michael Dumpert said.
“Despite all of his athletic successes, he has remained humble,” Dumpert said. “Garrett is the first to arrive and the last to leave. He is always giving praise to his teammates.”
Williams was named the Tri-County Spotlight Offensive Player of the Year.
“Winning an award like this is an honor and I am very grateful to represent our offense,” Williams said. “In reality this award should go to the entire offensive unit as whole for the great year we had on that side of the ball.
“Our offensive lineman deserve credit for most of our success,” he said. “They, as well as the guys in the backfield, made my job of running the offense so much easier. Every game this year the offense produced enough points to put us in a position to win, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Quarterback is not an easy position to play at any level, Dumpert said. It requires a special athlete who is driven and dedicated.
“Playing quarterback at Paola requires toughness, competitiveness, athleticism, intelligence and a leader’s demeanor, poise under fire, exudes confidence, an understanding of the scheme and framework of our offense to make good decisions,” Dumpert said “Garret embodies all of these characteristics which allowed our offense statistically to be one of Paola’s best.”
Paola averaged more than 400 yards and more than 40 points per game the last two seasons. Williams helped led the Panthers offense to 43 points, 77 passing yards and 329 rushing yards per game in 2019. The team averaged 40 points, 88 yards passing and 340 rushing yards a game this season. Those numbers would be even larger, but the Panthers had had a running clock in the fourth quarter 10 times in the past two seasons.
The Paola Panthers have had some great quarterbacks over the years with Mike Lesher (1984 state champion), Matt Stallbaumer (1994 state champion), Jon Lee, Tiny VanRheen and Jeremy Dillard (2006 state runner-up). Williams is in that group of elite Paola Panther quarterbacks, Dumpert said.
Williams, who also plays basketball and baseball, is the Paola High School student body president. He is an outstanding student-athlete with a 4.0 grade-point average.
The season was a special one for Williams, coming back from a collarbone injury that ended his junior campaign. It was also a season the Panthers were very fortunate and grateful to play, because of challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year was kind of my redemption season because of the collarbone injury I had my junior year,” Williams said. “Having that season cut short due to an injury fueled my desire to play this season. Then dealing with Covid this year we had to make sure we soaked up every moment because we never knew when it would be taken away from us.”
State came early for Paola, falling in an epic comeback effort against eventual state champion St. James, who also upset defending state champion Bishop Miege on the way.
“The goal every year is to obviously make it to the playoffs and win state,” Williams said. “That was the goal this year as well and unfortunately we came up short, but not before having a very successful season.”
Williams said he is proud of his opportunity to be a Panther and part of rich history of the program.
“The football tradition in the town of Paola is like none other,” he said. “Excellence is expected, and that is what we went out there and tried to live up to. The 2021 senior class definitely left its mark with a couple of great seasons of football. I am grateful to have gotten the opportunity to be a part of our football history.
“Just being able to get to play my senior season is a dream come true in itself,” Williams said. “Everything was different this year, and that was no different for our football season. We faced new situations every week and made sure to not take any of our final games for granted. Being able to see the whole season through with my senior class was an experience I am eternally grateful for.”