KINGS MILLS, Ohio -- Nak'emon Williams appears to have a storybook high school experience.
The junior is the star of the Kings High School football team, is brothers with a Cincinnati-area football legend and is one of the most popular students in school.
His athletic director raves that Williams is the best athlete in school. His coach says he might end up being the best running back to ever play at Kings. Williams also shines as a defensive back for the Knights.
But his lofty stature on Columbia Road has by no means come easy for Williams. It wasn’t an outside influence that set the foundation during his elementary school years, but rather a sister who wanted the best for him.
An uncertain upbringing
As an infant, one of Nak'emon's mother’s friends took guardianship, according to his sister, Nakeita Williams. Nak’emon moved at least five times around Cincinnati during his childhood.
Originally from Northside, Nak’emon attended three schools before moving north to attend J.F. Burns Elementary School in Maineville in the fourth grade.
In January 2011, Nakeita received custody of Nak’emon and his elder brother, Keenan, a 2016 Kings graduate. Living with his sister changed everything for Nak’emon.
“She has sacrificed a lot to make sure me and my brother get the best possible,” Nak’emon said.
Nakeita, a 2004 Jacobs Center High School graduate, her wife, Olivia Williams, and Olivia’s mother, Sherry Prows, live with Nak’emon in a neighborhood just minutes from Kings.
“It’s just nice he gets to have a life,” Nakeita said. “I didn’t get to have one. It’s nice to see him having one.”
Nakeita, 31, occasionally brings up the past. It’s important to remember. The difficult experiences are a cause for reflection at times.
She’s grateful Nak’emon is in a better environment as a teenager than what she experienced.
“I experienced violence everywhere, and so did all of my siblings,” said Nakeita, who works for Express Scripts. “Violence was everywhere down there -- it didn't really matter where we lived. I lived on Bank Street, Race Street and in Cumminsville.”
Nakeita also mentioned other parts of town including Millvale, Price Hill and Queen City Avenue.
“Violence was everywhere and especially if you were not popular, was pretty, or had nice things,” Nakeita said.
Living in Warren County has been a much different experience.
"All the support shown up here and the acceptance was mind-blowing," Nakeita said.
Nakeita and Nak’emon share a close bond. Nakeita refers to him as her “son/brother” and she’s advised the teenager on a variety of topics on an open-door policy she established.
“He’s like my child but we fight like we are siblings because we are siblings,” Nakeita said.
Nakeita has urged her brother to have a strong work ethic, stay drug-free, do the right things and finish school.
“She helped me to keep going,” Nak’emon said. “With her story, she has showed me that anything is possible. She got out away from the violence. It motivates me to keep going.”
Finding a support system
Not only have Nakeita's love and decisions helped mold Nak'emon, they seemingly have put him in the right place with a Kings family that supports both of them.
Whether it’s playing Xbox or listening to the same music, Nak’emon and Ashton Koller share a friendship on and off the field.
“He takes things very competitively -- if it's a Friday night game or a video game he always wants to win; and I think this reflects on the field the most with the amazing season he's having,” Koller said.
Koller is the junior quarterback for the Knights. The two have known each other since the fourth grade.
Nak’emon has vacationed with Ashton’s family. Ashton's parents, Jason and Robin, have been supportive of Nak'emon too. Robin has been a mother figure of sorts for Nakeita and Nak’emon.
"Ashton was one of my first friends here," Nak'emon said. "He's been a brother figure to me."
Ashton said Nakeita inspired him for her selfless act of taking custody of Nak’emon and Keenan.
“Nakeita and Nak'emon are my family,” Ashton said. "We have gotten so close with them we treat each other like family. When I go to Kemon's house or vice versa, it's like going to our second house.”
Other families within the Kings School District have supported Nakeita over the years. Nak’emon estimates he knows 95 percent of the high school student body. It didn't take long to make friends and find a support system at school.
“Although we struggled it was a blessing to have all the great people in Kings, including the principals who was supportive and helped as much as they could,” Nakeita said.
A star on the field
Football has allowed Nak’emon to flourish athletically. It’s at the heart of his high school experience.
Nak'emon's smile brightens when he speaks about playing on Friday nights.
“He loves football,” Nakeita said. “He breathes football. Honestly, he is in love with the game.”
Williams, 17, is one of the best running backs in Greater Cincinnati. He’s also a half-brother to Cincinnati high school football legend Carlos Snow. But he's making his own mark.
He’s rushed for 894 yards and 11 touchdowns (8.1 ypc) for the Knights (2-4) entering Friday’s game at Milford (5-1).
“When I am on the field, I play with attitude,” he said.
Kings coach Andy Olds challenged his standout last week to live up to his early season accolades.
Opposing teams have to account for Williams on every snap. His breakaway speed and physicality are evident. But Olds set the tone for a deeper hunger.
Williams responded with 173 yards rushing and a touchdown in a 35-7 win over Turpin.
“He’s learning," Olds said. "Everything is still a work in progress.”
He had 27 carries for 253 yards and four touchdowns in the season opener against Lebanon. That included a school-record 98-yard touchdown run where he took the pitch four yards deep into the end zone on third down.
Football will undoubtedly be a significant avenue for Williams to play in college.
A football future
Nak’emon, listed at 5 feet 9 1/2 and 170 pounds during this season, is also a track standout and played lacrosse until his sophomore year.
He attended summer football camps at UC, Ohio State and Miami University prior to the season. He’s getting the most attention at defensive back, though his breakaway speed makes him the Knights’ offensive catalyst.
“He’s having a great year,” Withrow coach Nathaniel Snow said. “He’s put in all the hard work to be a successful player.”
Nathaniel Snow, a former Woodward fullback from 1991 to 1995, is also Nak’emon’s half-brother.
Snow, 39, says he speaks with Nak'emon every day and has advised him on his skill set.
“It’s a family gene,” Nathaniel said.
With seven siblings overall, Nathaniel, Carlos and Nak’emon had the same father, Ralph Snow Sr., who died in 2011.
Carlos, 48, a former Ohio State standout running back, ranks third on the Ohio High School Athletic Association career rushing yards list. He rushed for 7,761 yards at the now defunct Cincinnati Academy of Physical Education, also known as CAPE.
“I speak to Nak’emon a lot,” Carlos Snow said. “I am very proud of his success.”
And so are his coaches and athletic administration. Nak’emon can often be found in the athletic administration office at Kings. His outgoing personality is recognizable.
“He has his grades in good shape,” Kings Athletic Director Tyler Miller said. “He’s done a really good job of just persevering and working hard and keeping his eye on the prize.”
The prize may eventually include a college scholarship. Nakeita doesn’t have a preference on whether Nak’emon stays close or not for college. She just wants the best opportunity.
“I’m just really happy that he’s happy and that he is going places,” Nakeita said. “I am so proud of him. I cannot wait until he gets big because that’s my boy. That’s my son/brother.”