TWELVE months on from his ‘finals’, Barnsley graduate George Williams faces an examination of a more pleasurable variety at Wembley on Sunday.
This time last year, the Reds defender was finishing off his studies en route to attaining a degree in Sports Science and Management from Loughborough University, having combined his classwork with his fledgling professional footballing career, having joined the Oakwell outfit at Christmas 2014 from Worcester City.
He is the first to admit that it proved somewhat time-consuming and stressful, with preparations for a League One play-off final with Millwall being a breeze in comparison, even accounting for the high stakes.
Williams, who has burst onto the scene with the Reds this term, said: “It is late May when the exams are and this time last year, I was finishing my degree.
“I graduated last summer and it is nice to now be able to focus on football for a bit and go home after training and relax and do things I want to do.
“Last season, I was training and driving straight back to Loughborough to get some lectures done. In days off, I’d always be at university and after training as we finished at 1pm sometimes , I’d get back for the 3pm or 4pm lecture and do a bit of work in the evening too.
“Danny Wilson and Ben Mansford were very supportive when I joined and said: ‘Get your degree finished’ as I only had one semester left. It was tough, but the university were really good and for the lectures I couldn’t go to, they filmed them and give them to me online. It wasn’t as tough as it should have been.
“We now have a few lads at Barnsley who are doing a degree. Lewin Nyatanga has just finished one as well and Aidy White is doing one. It is getting bigger and bigger in the game and more players are looking at doing it as you need it.”
Williams and his team-mates are aiming to graduate with honours on the football field by clinching one of the most remarkable Football League promotions in recent years with Barnsley, who were bottom of League One in late November.
As far as 2016 has gone, the Reds have been top of the class with a sweet upturn seeing them lift the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy and claim a play-off place.
For Williams, farmed out on loan to National League side Barrow early in 2015-16, it has also been a spectacular renaissance after switching with aplomb from his accustomed right-back position to the left – with a bit of help from a former left-back in Reds boss Paul Heckingbottom.
So much so that he is now on the cusp of his second Wembley appearance in under two months on Sunday – a far cry from his early experiences in the game.
That saw him freed by boyhood club MK Dons before making his way back into the professional realm via university football and the semi-pro ranks with Worcester City.
The 23-year-old said: “This season has been just incredible.
“After being released at 18, I worked really hard to get back into the professional game and have done a different route to many. I was determined and have luckily got my rewards.
“It’s been a rollercoaster this year. I wasn’t expecting to come back in (after going to Barrow). We have some good full-backs and everyone was playing well.
“But a few injuries hit and I got my chance and enjoyed it and took it and here we are.
“Since I have come in, results have gone our way, which always helps and hopefully that will continue on Sunday.”