Waco Tribune-Herald: Baylor grad Williams gives large gift for football stadium

May 10, 2012

Article printed with the permission of The Waco Tribune-Herald

By JOHN WERNER

Thursday May 10, 2012

Houston attorney John Eddie Williams, a former Baylor University football player, has made a major gift toward the construction of the school's proposed on-campus football stadium, university officials announced Wednesday.

The field at Baylor Stadium will be named John Eddie Williams Field.

Williams' gift ranks among the top five capital gifts in Baylor history and follows on the heels of a lead gift for the new stadium by Elizabeth and Drayton McLane Jr. in March. Williams declined to reveal the amount of his stadium gift, but said he is excited to be on board.

Baylor University rendering "Let me just say the biggest gift came from Drayton and I'm excited to help in a smaller way," Williams said. "Hopefully, other people will help keep the momentum going and raise money for the stadium. A new stadium will be exciting for all students, alumni, players, recruits and the coaching staff."

Baylor athletic director Ian McCaw said the university is on track to begin work on the estimated $250 million stadium before football practice begins in early August, with plans to complete the stadium for the 2014 season.

Baylor officials hope to make a formal presentation to the board of regents in July to approve the groundbreaking.

"Fundraising is going well and we're encouraged by the response of our top donors," McCaw said. "It will be a tremendous honor to have John Eddie Williams' name associated with this state-of-the-art facility and Baylor football.

"This commitment, coupled with that of Drayton McLane and his family, continues to demonstrate that our fundraising momentum for a new Baylor Stadium is growing," he said.

Williams is a managing partner of Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas Law Firm L.L.P. in Houston. Williams was a member of the five-lawyer "Dream Team" that recovered a historic $17.6 billion settlement for the people of Texas from the tobacco industry in January 1998.

Williams and his wife, Sheridan, previously made a major gift to help finance the construction of Baylor's Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center, which opened in 2001.

The Williamses, Umphreys and Harold Nix combined to give $20 million to help build the $31 million law school. Walter Umphrey and Nix also were members of the five-lawyer tobacco settlement team.

Williams has roots in Baylor athletics since coming to the university on a football scholarship in 1972 from Pasadena High School.

He played nose guard under Grant Teaff for two seasons before graduating from Baylor with a business degree in 1976 and a law degree in 1978.

"When I came here to play under Grant Teaff 40 years ago, I never imagined that I would be able to do something like this for the university," Williams said. "(Baylor football coach) Art Briles says it's going to help him out a lot in recruiting. It should be a real asset to help get top recruits."

Williams said he wasn't originally convinced that Baylor needed a new stadium, but supports the project now.

"I thought raising $250 million to move a stadium five or six miles didn't sound smart," Williams said. "But, obviously, I've been converted. I think it's really going to bring people together. People who haven't been to Baylor in decades will come just to see the stadium."

The new Baylor Stadium is expected to be built by the Populous architectural firm on a 93-acre site along the Brazos River on Interstate 35, directly across the river from the law school Williams helped fund.

It will hold 45,000 fans, with the ability to expand to 55,000 in the future.

The stadium also will feature a bridge crossing the river that will connect to campus.

"John Eddie has provided a generous gift that will continue to fuel the momentum that is gathering around our new on-campus football stadium," Baylor President Ken Starr said in a statement. "His transformative gift helped build the spectacular Baylor Law School in 2001, and now his leadership and generosity extend to the opposite side of the river."

Briles thinks the on-campus stadium will continue to build the momentum of the football program, which is coming off one of its best seasons in school history.

Led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin, the Bears finished 10-3 and capped the season with a 67-56 win against Washington in the Alamo Bowl.

"What makes this gift especially meaningful to our coaches and student-athletes is that it comes from a Baylor football student-athlete," Briles said. "That says a lot about his love for Baylor University and his desire to help us make this vision a reality."