PIEDMONT - For some time now, Piedmont softball coach Rachel Smith has known just how special a player Kayleigh Williams is.
And it's not just her skills on the softball diamond either. She's witnessed first-hand how a big impact Williams has had with her lead-by-example attitude to her teammates as well.
That was reaffirmed again on Thursday during Williams' softball signing day at the Piedmont High School gym, where she made things official with Coastal Alabama in Monroeville.
Many of Williams' former teammates were there in person on this summer afternoon to wish their former teammate well, but a couple of them who were on vacation made sure they were also a part of Williams' special day via Skype.
"I was glad they got to be here even though it was on the phone," Williams said. "One of them was Erin Ray. She's at the beach right now. She's one of my best friends. Morgan Martin was the other. I think she's at the beach also. She was our shortstop this year and she's playing (travel) softball. I was glad for them to be there in a way without actually being here."
It was a fitting way to pay respect to Williams, who played primarily in the outfield last season. She batted .346 with 18 doubles, five triples, three home runs, six stolen bases, 47 runs scored and 30 RBIs. Williams also pitched for the Lady Bulldogs last season.
"It's been a heck of a journey and I've made some great friends along the way," Williams said. "It's taken a lot of work."
Smith can attest to all the work Williams has put in.
"You hear about how champions are built when no one else is looking. She's that player," Smith said. "She's in the cage hitting by herself, or she'll take her dad to the cage and she's hitting three or four buckets of balls, or she's in the bullpen working on spins or working on a specific pitch. That's all outside of practice. I know that because I've caught her doing it so many times, and it shows in her play.
"People follow her leadership because they know how hard she works outside of practice and that she's a committed player. She's committed to her team. When you do those types of things, it shows in your play, other people notice and good things like this happen. I'm very proud for her."
Williams had several offers of late, but she said the atmosphere Coastal Alabama offers felt like home to her.
"It's a small campus, which I like," she said. "I'm really excited to see what's in store for me. I'm just excited to be back on the field. I just knew when I played my last high school game that it couldn't be the end for me. I love this sport too much to put it down already."
Smith said Coastal Alabama coach Monica Meadows recently contacted her about Williams on a coaching networking site called Field Level. She specifically requested Williams' profile, which Smith did.
"From that point, Coach Meadows had contacted Kayleigh about coming to Coastal Alabama, and I think she ended up watching her play at one of these tournaments she was playing summer ball for," Smith said. "She asked her to come on a visit and made her an offer."
It was an offer that Williams felt was too good to pass up.
"She said I would be a pitcher and I would work as a pitcher, but she said that doesn't just limit me to just pitching," Williams said. "She said she gives her pitchers a chance to hit if I can make it into the top 10 (of the lineup). I really want to hit. I guess it just depends on how it goes at practice.
"I'm excited to go, and I know Coach Meadows is excited to have me. She expressed that to me when I first told her I committed there."
Although she's proud to see Williams moving on to the next level, Smith said she's going to miss her presence at Piedmont.
"She's been one of those players where it doesn't matter what role she's playing. It's just been really nice to have that solid play out of her for the past six years," Smith said. "My first year here as an assistant coach she was already pitching for the varsity when she was in eighth grade. It was just one of those things that was like 'Wow, this is going to be a really good player for us for a really long time.' I've just so enjoyed watching her grow and develop into the player she is."