BUTTE VALLEY – Butte College running back Johnny Williams, safety Grant Ewell and linebacker Isaiah Ward are three players who never want to come off the football field and who played a big part for the Roadrunners in 2021.
Williams, who was recently named an All-American, was in his sophomore season with more than 1,024 yards in the butte’s leading run. In a game in early October, he rushed 45 times for 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Butte’s coach Robbie Snelling laughed that Williams would take the ball 80 times per game if he let it go.
Ewell was second with 60 in tackles for the Roadrunner, had two sacks, two forced fumbles, three interceptions and a punt block. Ward led Butte with eight sacks and was fourth in the California Community Collegiate Athletic Association in sacks.
After three butt college football players committed to continuing their football at the Division II level on National Signing Day last Wednesday, on Monday three other Roadrunners announced they would continue to play football together at the Division I level.
Isaiah Ward, a freshman, and sophomores Ewell and sophomore Williams have signed with the Division I Arkansas-Pine Bluffs of the Southwestern Athletic Conference.
Ewell first announced the decision on Twitter Friday, a day after Williams announced she had received an offer from Pine Bluff. Ward signed his papers on Monday to play at Pine Bluff in front of his friends, family and coaches. Snelling said Ewell and Williams also signed, but they were on leave and would not attend an in-person ceremony.
I am 100% committed to the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff! Thanks to my coaches, my family, my coaches at Butte College along with the UAPB staff for believing in me and giving me this opportunity. Can’t wait to go to work! pic.twitter.com/v9ABYyHnqH
— Grant “Buddy” Ewell Jr. (@GrantEwellJr) December 17, 2021
I am blessed to have received my first d1 offer from the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff!!!! pic.twitter.com/5UZOTVhc8K
— Johnny Williams🥇 (@TwoTugJrock) December 16, 2021
Snelling said that Pine Bluff had a large group of senior graduates and needed players who would be ready to compete now.
“I think our guys can come in and do it wherever they are given a chance,” Snelling said. “I’m hoping they’ll be able to do this together and go through that process together.”
Ward said the offer came quickly and he was unable to travel to Arkansas. He eventually finalized the decision after lengthy conversations with his father, Columbus Ward, and Columbus Ward, which showed how much he really had faith in his son.
“When I looked at everything as a whole, all the signs were pointing to go and that was a good thing for my future,” said Isaiah Ward. “Going to DI was the goal. Getting paid for my school was the real goal. I’m glad I’m going somewhere where I can get an education and if football doesn’t work out there will be something else.”
Ward and Ewell played together in defense of the Roadrunners in the fall 2021 season, and Williams and Ward played together in high school at Inderkum High School in Sacramento. Ward stated that he and Ewell were captain of the defense in Ward’s single year of competition.
While Williams joined Butte College just out of high school, Ewell and Ward joined Roadrunner after attending four-year programs out of high school.
Ewell came to Butte after a semester in western Oregon, but Ward’s journey in Butte has two stops and is a bit more complicated.
Snelling dropped Ward out of high school, but received an offer from Dixie State and decided to join the Bison in Utah in the fall of 2019 as a redshirt. They quickly decided it was not a good fit and decided to give junior college a shot and came back in spring 2020. He trained with Butte for about a month and a half, but that’s when it became clear that the 2020 season would not take place. Roadrunner transferred to Ellsworth Community College in Iowa for Ward to play a brief 2020 season not counting his athletic qualifications.
Snelling continued to reach Ward and left the door open for a return. Ward sustained an MCL injury at Ellsworth and decided to move Butte back in the spring of 2021. He rehabilitated the injury without surgery and missed the first two games of the 2021 season at Butte.
Ward said the injury has been the hardest part of his collegiate career – watching his college teammates play after not being able to play in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“I left the door open and he came back and we’re all glad he did, and I think he is too,” Snelling said.
APB is considered an HBCU school—one of the historically black colleges and universities that were established prior to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 with the intention of serving a predominantly African-American community. Ward said it was a big factor in his decision-making process even after beginning his collegiate career in Utah.
Ward, Ewell and Williams will compete against schools such as Grambling and Jackson State. Jackson State is a school coached by 2011 NFL Hall of Fame inductee Deion Sanders, who has just found one of the nation’s top recruits, Travis Hunter.
“Competition is the name of the game. SWAC is a tough division and I know if I can bowl there I can get the ball out there,” Ward said.