HARKER HEIGHTS — While his parents were deployed for nearly half of his high school career, Derrick Williams II was growing eight inches taller and blossoming into one of the best wrestlers in Region I.
But even with both of his parents home for his senior season, Williams was working on a different surprise in between literally wrestling from sunup to sundown.
When Williams took up wrestling as an eighth-grader, no one in his family was familiar with the sport.
“Other than WWE with my grandmother,” his mother, Sharron, said.
Now, his family can’t wait to experience Division I wrestling after Derrick signed a letter of intent to compete at North Dakota State this past week at Harker Heights.
“We had a taste of it, but when it became his passion we really had to start understanding it,” Sharron said. “Because he loves it, guess what, we love it, too.”
But his parents, Sharron and Derrick Sr., weren’t aware that Derrick was being pursued by one of the top 25 wrestling programs in the nation this past year.
During the season, Derrick said his average day began at 4:30 a.m., when he woke up to wrestle with friends at his local gym. After school, Derrick wrestled with the Knight team in practice then returned to the gym to wrestle again.
But in the meantime, Derrick was applying to colleges and emailing the wrestling coaches to gauge interest in having him join the team.
And there was plenty to like about Williams joining a team.
Williams, who entered high school at 5-foot-2, 120 pounds, had sprouted to 5-10, 145 and was, at one point, ranked in the top five in the nation on the BeRecruited website.
His parents had no idea of his recruitment.
“When we found out about this was when it was time for us to purchase tickets to do college visits,” Sharron said.
“He basically did it on his own,” Derrick Sr. added. “Because he’s self-driven.”
Derrick Sr. and his wife were deployed during Derrick’s freshman season. Derrick Sr. was also deployed during his junior season.
With his parents gone for many of his matches, Derrick leaned on a member of his family who wasn’t as far away.
“I had my sister,” Derrick said. “I had my sister come to every match, and she was my No. 1 fan all four years of high school.”
His sister, Jasmine, had to learn the rules at meets.
But that, and attending Texas State, didn’t stop her from being at each one and getting into the sport.
“I’m more nervous at wrestling meets than he is,” she said with a smile.
After Derrick’s junior year, Derrick Sr. decided he wasn’t going to miss any more matches.
In January 2013, Derrick Sr. retired from the military after 22 years of service.
“I retired just to be here for his senior year,” Derrick Sr. said.
“Sometimes as parents you’ve got to make sacrifices.”
This past season, Derrick was watched by the family. Derrick reached regionals for the second consecutive year.
Flanking Derrick on Thursday, Derrick Sr. and Sharron reached down simultaneously as they all put on matching green and gold hats to cap his signing ceremony in the Harker Heights cafeteria.
For Derrick, it was the perfect ending to his high school career.
“It was great,” he said. “It was perfect — a dream come true.”
But in the next chapter of his career, the rest of the family plan to be at more matches.
Derrick being in North Dakota is just a small hurdle along the way.
“I’ll be anywhere and everywhere he is,” Jasmine said. “If I can go to North Dakota, I’m going to be there.”
“It’s cold. I’m from California, I don’t like the cold,” Sharron said. “But I look forward to going to see my son.”