Ole Miss Honors Contributions Of Williams, Reed

OLEMISSSPORTSDOTCOM Ben Williams and James Reed
Ben Williams and James Reed

March 21, 2014

OXFORD, Miss. - Ole Miss Athletics will pay tribute to the contributions of Ben Williams and James Reed, its first two African-American football student athletes, with the naming of the entrance of the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center in their honor.

The Williams-Reed Football Foyer will welcome coaches, players and visitors as they enter the Manning Center and will recognize the contributions of the first two African-American football players in Rebel history.

"This is a significant and proud day for Ole Miss Athletics," said Athletics Director Ross Bjork. "It is impossible to quantify the contributions of Ben Williams and James Reed to our university, athletics department and football program. They laid the foundation for diversity and sacrificed so much when they wore the Ole Miss uniform, and broke down the barriers on our campus and in the South as the first African-American football student athletes at the University of Mississippi.

"As we developed our football-specific facilities in the Manning Center, it was our goal to create a place to welcome all guests to the building by showcasing who we are as program, how far we have traveled to get here, and celebrate those who came before us. 

"The Williams-Reed Football Foyer is now the front door for Ole Miss Football, and there could not be a better welcome home sign than to have Ben and James greet everyone who enters the Manning Center. On behalf of our coaches, staff and student athletes, we thank Ben and James for everything they have done and continue to do for the University of Mississippi."

"I could not be prouder to work in a building that will include the names of Ben Williams and James Reed," said head coach Hugh Freeze. "The contributions these men provided our great university are immeasurable. I'm thrilled they will forever be enshrined in our facility and our student-athletes can be reminded every day of the courage they displayed."

"I am so grateful to the university for this honor," said Williams. "It is one of the greatest honors of my life and makes me proud to be an Ole Miss Rebel."

"My family, my friends and I are deeply honored to have the entry way of the Olivia and Archie Manning Athletics Performance Center named in our honor," said Reed. "It is indeed a blessing from God to receive this honor.

"To be mentioned in the same breath as such legendary Ole Miss M-Club alumni as Archie and Ben, who both enjoyed outstanding college and professional football careers, is unthinkable. Many of the lessons that sustained me during my professional career were learned in the classroom and on the field of play at Ole Miss. My parents, Mr. and Mrs. E.S. Reed, both of whom are deceased, would be so very proud of this accomplishment."

In the fall of 1972, Reed and Williams entered the Ole Miss campus as the first two African Americans to play football for the Ole Miss Rebels. Williams saw his first action as a true freshman in 1972, while Reed played on the Rebel freshman team that year and moved to varsity in 1973.

One of the most popular players in Ole Miss History, "Gentle" Ben Williams was a first-team All-America selection in 1975 and a three-time All-SEC performer as a defensive tackle for the Rebels.

Williams finished his four-year Rebel career with 377 tackles, and is still Ole Miss' career leader with 37 quarterback sacks. He also set the Rebel single-season record with 18 sacks in 1973.

As a senior, the Yazoo City native received the highest honor given by the Ole Miss student body when he was elected Colonel Rebel by his fellow students. He was the first African American to earn the distinction, which is now known as Mr. Ole Miss.

Upon the end of his Rebel playing career, Williams was a third-round pick by the NFL's Buffalo Bills in 1976, becoming Ole Miss' highest draft pick at the time since Manning was selected as the second overall pick in the first round in 1971.

Williams had a solid NFL career with some highly successful Bills teams, playing for 10 years from 1976-1985, including a Pro Bowl appearance in 1982.

Reed, a native of Meridian, was the less touted of the two but a standout student athlete nonetheless. In his Rebel career, the speedy tailback rushed for 1,309 yards and found the endzone nine times on his way to All-SEC honorable mention honors all three years. Reed was drafted in the ninth round by the NFL's Cleveland Browns in May 1976.

Following his playing days, Reed served as a special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS), serving various roles and drawing assignments in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, Corpus Christi, Texas, Camp Lejune, N.C., and the national headquarters in Washington, D.C., among others.

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