Coming out of high school, William Green was one of the best running back prospects in the nation. As a junior in college, William Green was the number one running back prospect in the upcoming NFL draft. After a stellar rookie campaign, Browns’ first-round draft pick William Green was voted team MVP and was a candidate for the league Rookie-of-the-Year honor eventually awarded to defensive end Julius Peppers.
And then, his career imploded. His life imploded. The desire in his heart imploded.
Today, William Green has watched every rerun of his life and has seen the disaster. He has transformed the comedy/tragedy and now turned it into a Broadway hit. And he gets paid for it.
Green is front and center of a motivational agency called “Team Green.” He is booked to speak in front of a few or hundreds; and not necessarily tell his life’s story, but to inspire others to consider their own decisions, what repercussions those decisions ultimately become not only in their own life, but to the lives of others. His message is simple: hope.
The agency books high schools, conferences, churches, corporations, correctional facilities and universities with sessions designed to make others realize that life can be fleeting, success can be temporary, and bad decisions can be life-altering – but they don’t have to be. Team Green’s website is teamgreen31.com. There is a link on the website that enables the user to book his services.
Green was a two-time First-Team All-Big East athlete, the Big East Offensive Player-of-the-Year in 2001, Heisman Trophy nominee and a Consensus All-American (2001), one of only 12 for Boston College since 1920. In his junior season he gained 1,559 yards on 265 attempts, scored 17 touchdowns, had a 5.9 rushing average, and contributed another 260 yards in the passing game.
He was the first running back selected in the 2002 NFL draft taken by the Browns with the 16th overall pick in the first-round. Cleveland was desperate for a speedy, elusive running back to which head coach Butch Davis coveted Green. Browns’ President Carmen Policy wanted a player who didn’t have as many problems that Green demonstrated but Davis was insistent that the pick would be Green. Policy relented as his stance was that he did not interfere with personal decisions, but the selection drove a wedge between the two men for years.
While with Cleveland, his rookie year was excellent in which he gained 887 yards on 243 carries, six touchdowns plus 113 receiving yards among 10 starts. In his second season, he had already gained 559 yards through seven games including 145 yards in a 13-6 win over the Oakland Raiders which brought the Browns to a 3-3-0 record. He played for the Browns from 2002-2005.
At the time, Green was being placed on that list of great Cleveland Browns running backs such as Leroy Kelly, Greg Pruitt, Earnest Byner, Leroy Hoard and Bobby Mitchell showing power and vision.
But one fateful day he was stopped by police and charged with DUI and reckless driving. He was also arrested for marijuana possession which all led to a four-game suspension. The week leading up to the December 8 game against the St. Louis Rams in which he would be eligible to play, the league extended his suspension indefinitely for “treatment purposes.” At the time, the Browns had sank to 4-8-0.
Green was inducted into the Boston College Varsity Club Hall of Fame in 2016. In 2012, SB Nation compiled a list of the greatest Boston College football players at each position and listed Green as their number one running back. That list made these notes about Green:
“Green is the most talented, explosive back in BC history. 1 yard, 1 yard, 70 yards – a typical William Green day. Also a monumental head case who could have and should have been a Heisman Trophy contender as a junior. May be the most talented football player ever at the Heights.”
On ranker.com, Green was listed as the 23rd best Browns running back of all-time.
Today, Green lives in Baltimore and is married to his wife since 2002. The couple have eight children. He became an ordained minister in 2012. DBN caught up with him between speaking tours to find out about life without football, if he still thinks about the “Run, William, Run!” play, and why he is obsessed with attempting to change the lives of others - especially young adults.
DBN: You were a high school All-American despite losing both of your parents at an early age. Who did you live with and what type of teenaged years did you have being separated from the rest of your siblings?
Green: My grandmother raised me, my father’s mom. We didn’t live too far from my other siblings and we were still close. Had a strong bond especially my younger brother. As a teenager she didn’t want me to go to the local high school, Atlantic City. So, I went to Holy Spirit High School over in Absecon, New Jersey. It was a culture shock at first and I didn’t fit in. But, football breaks barriers and you met people and play with guys who are like your brothers. I met my future wife here in my junior year.
DBN: After a stellar high school career, you could have gone to just about any university but went to Boston College. What were your final three colleges that you whittled your list to, and why did you decide on BC?
Green: There were several that I liked and several that really liked me. Ohio State, North Carolina, Florida, Wisconsin, Nebraska. Boston College wasn’t even on my radar, but when I went there for a visit I knew it felt like home. Mike Cloud was the starting running back in my first year and gained over 1,700 yards so the emphasis on running the ball was always there. When I stepped in, I inherited a good offensive line. Coach (Tom) O’Brien cared about all of us on and off the field. It just felt like the place I needed to be.
DBN: In three years at BC you played in every game before settling in as the starting running back. As a junior, you had over 1,500 yards rushing, scored 17 touchdowns. named an All-American and finished as a Heisman candidate. What would you have done if you had won the Heisman?
Green: I came out as a true junior. As a sophomore myself and Cedric Washington did most of the running and had more yards and carries, but did not consider myself the featured back. In my junior year, that good offensive line just jelled and coach made me the starter. It was a great honor to represent my school. It was also the year my oldest daughter would start coming to games when she was very young.
DBN: Which NFL team growing up was your favorite, and who were some of your favorite players?
Green: The 49ers. I loved Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Joe Montana.
DBN: When the NFL draft rolled around, what was your reaction when you heard your name called?
Green: I was just happy to be there. There were so many talented guys in the draft. The process leading up to the draft is no big surprise. With agents and NFL people they can pinpoint the probabilities of where you are going to be taken, it’s just by which team. The relief in my grandma’s eyes is what I remember most. I had a good agent and to see his happiness was also great.
DBN: What was your first training camp like with the Browns?
Green: Very intense. That first year the Browns defense was very good. So, I had the opportunity to go against and battle those guys every day. Those were the kind of guys who made you tough. Had some good times and was fun at times and painful at times.
DBN: What was head coach Butch Davis like?
Green: He was a good man. Looking back, he would always try to set things up for me, and for my family. He was a family-oriented man which was important to him. He was always in the player’s corner. He had a lot on his plate and cared about players. He wanted to win and taught winning, we as a team just didn’t help him out in those respects.
DBN: Coach Davis played you quite a bit as a rookie with 10 starts. Your first start, how did you find out?
Green: He started me early and I knew the week before our first game. I started the first game which we lost by one point to the Chiefs. But then I got a back injury which made me have a somewhat rough start and limited. Jamel White got most of the starts but was hurt later on in the year. Coach came to me and asked if I was ready to play and said, “You get in and don’t look back.”
DBN: Do you still get questions about the “Run, William, Run!” play against the Atlanta Falcons?
Green: I do. Sometimes I will be someplace where someone will recognize me and yell it out. I still get questions about that play.
DBN: In your rookie season, the Browns went to the playoffs as a Wild Card. You scored the game’s first points. What did you do with that touchdown football and can we go outside and play some catch with it?
Green: I still have that ball. I have never been one to hold onto things like that, though. I always felt whatever talent I had was a gift from God. The ball is in my basement and sometimes my boys will start to toss it around. I don’t think they know the significance of it.
DBN: At one point the Browns were up 24-7 before losing 36-33 to the Steelers in that game. Looking back, where do you think the game changed?
Green: The third quarter. They started moving the ball down the field and our defense just couldn’t stop them. The Steelers were really good that year. Their last four drives were for touchdowns.
DBN: You were the Browns MVP and a runner-up for the NFL Rookie-of-the-Year award. Did your success make you feel that the City of Cleveland would always be your new home forever?
Green: Yes and no. I was so young and not aware how big things were. Being a star running back just didn’t hit me. The people in Cleveland are my type and they embraced me – blue-collar types. When we made the playoffs that first year I just expected that we would do that every year. It was just what you did. But it is hard to get in and then is even harder to win once you get there.
DBN: The next year, what was the attitude like in Browns training camp with having gone 9-7 and making the playoffs the year before?
Green: There was an expectation that the offense was going to be good and able to score a lot of points. We drafted tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr. who was a big target and he was expected to add another dimension. Our quarterback Kelly Holcomb was having some good seasons and our offensive line was set with guys like Ryan Tucker, Jeff Faine and Shaun O’Hara.
DBN: After the 2004 season Coach Davis was fired. Where were you when you heard the news and what was your opinion at the time?
Green: I was at home. That was my first taste that the NFL was just business. It’s a “what have you done for me lately” attitude that I finally got. I was amazed at how things can change so fast with the hopes that the next guy would get us in the right direction.
DBN: In 2005, how did you hurt your ankle? Is it difficult as a starter to suddenly not be able to suit up for a game?
Green: During that season it was very humbling for me. It was the first time in my life that an injury had set me down and I physically could not go. It was tough. There becomes a pivotal point with lots of thing in the locker room and it was clear when another running back takes your place and at some point you begin to wonder if you will get back and if so if your job is safe. I had an ankle sprain that was sore and weak. It happened in the third quarter against the Texans and Reuben Droughns had to take it from there.
DBN: You had several issues during this time period that resulted in suspensions. Today, what would you say to your 23-year-old self?
Green: To give your heart to God. To not keep looking for things that won’t make your life better.
DBN: During your days with the Browns, where did players usually go after practices and home games?
Green: There was a variety of places, but definitely a restaurant called the Blue Point Grille downtown Cleveland. Pretty well-known for seafood.
DBN: After dealing with a quadriceps injury in training camp in 2005, you were released. You basically disappeared from this earth. What was going on with you during this time period?
Green: For me it was the first time football was stopped. It became a period I just encountered God, did some rehab, got into my faith and began some speaking.
DBN: In 2008 you attempted a comeback with the Browns. What was your mindset after sitting out two whole seasons and then trying to make the roster?
Green: It was two seasons that I was out. I worked out at a Pro Day at Boston College where several NFL teams attended. There was talk about me playing again especially from the Giants and Panthers.
DBN: What do you miss on game day?
Green: There are lots of things. Seeing my wife and kids wearing my jersey in the stands. The Browns’ fans were really good to us and to hear them cheer you knew they were behind you. They loved their team.
DBN: You now operate Team Green, a motivational agency. What inspired you to begin this journey?
Green: Initially growing up I was in a lot of pain and anguish. People are hurting in this world and I could associate with that. From the jungles in Indonesia to Beverly Hills, there is empathy and compassion. I know what hurting looks like. There is a lot of dark. But there is a way out. And I try to show others what that process looks like. I go into a lot of schools and corporate events and my message is one of hope. We all deal with things in our lives and need encouragement. We are not alone.
DBN: Where was the first gig you were booked as a motivational speaker, and how difficult was it to get in front of others and tell them sad stories that were your own true stories?
Green: I had a friend by the name of Mike Hagen who played running back for the Seahawks and I would go out with him and do ministry work in the evenings with different groups. One day he gave me a microphone and said, “What are you going to say?” Then, I started speaking to school assemblies in Dallas, Texas.
DBN: Your agency books a lot of churches and schools. What message are you hoping that these teenagers and young adults will take from your words and sink in?
Green: That you don’t have to be great to get started, you just have to get started. It is more difficult today with social media, instant news and saying things that may not be the truth about others. Just embrace who you are. Challenge yourself and set some goals. Can you look at yourself in the mirror? Truth is saying a lot about yourself whether you are short, tall, the color of your skin. Love who we are and fall in love with that challenge. Be the best that we can be. Be kind - walk in love.
DBN: Other than money, how is the NFL different today than when you played?
Green: When I played it was right at that bubble of the huge money contracts and played with intensity for the game. There was humility with a warrior’s creed and we played with integrity. Today, the demand is more about me and the “me society.” There was a lot less passing then also. Today they do protect guys more with regards to concussions and the long-term safety issues. But we didn’t have moves rehearsed when a touchdown was scored. There wasn’t the “look at me” attitude.
DBN: What are your fondest moments of being a Cleveland Brown?
Green: The game of football meant so much to the people of Cleveland and you tell they enjoyed everything to do with the game. I love this city. The playoff game was a special day with some great memories too although we should have won that game. That was the last playoff game for the Browns to this day. I was lucky to play with some great offensive linemen like Barry Stokes, Ryan Tucker and Ross Verba. The tradition of the Browns was always with us and you could tell it on the faces of the fans who loved their team.