How Auburn’s Cadillac Williams got its nickname

When Auburn fans first met Carnell Williams in the early 2000s, he was already “Cadillac.”

One of the most recognizable nicknames in program history is now inextricably linked with the former Tigers running back, top-five NFL draft and pick, and current Auburn assistant coach.

All major sports nicknames have origin stories, and Auburn has seen no shortage of them in recent seasons. Just two years ago, “Tank”, “Smoke” and “Big Kat” were all on the Tigers list at the same time.

For Williams, as he further explained in detail Bryan Harsin‘s Huddle with Hars podcast this week began with Mike Raita, a former Birmingham-area sportscaster who worked for ABC 33/40 when Williams was in high school. Raita, who retired in 2017, has taken it upon himself to give Williams a new moniker based on his style of play.

However, Williams did not learn of this from Raita. He heard about the night after playing a game during his junior year at Etowah High School outside of his hometown of Gadsden, Alabama.

“We were state champions my junior year – salute to Etowah,” Williams said. “That year I had nearly 2,600 yards, about 36 touchdowns, state champion. I remember going to the mall on Saturday night; around Gadsden is the only thing to do.

“And all these people were like, ‘Hey, did you hear your new nickname? Cadillac.” Mind you, this is 1999 now.[Raita]would sing the whole Cadillac song, ‘Look how sleek he is.'”

But as popular as the name is now, it didn’t sit well with a 17-year-old Williams — mostly because he wasn’t a fan of the cars.

“People started calling me Cadillac and I fought it for a year,” Williams said. “I guess that’s not my name. I didn’t like it at first. Cadillacs didn’t have sports cars back then. They were big, smooth and slow. I grew up with Cadillacs, and they went 85 miles an hour on the dash.

“So I’m like no, no, no, no. i am a ferrari I’m fast, I’m fast, I’m elusive. I’m not a Cadillac.”

As Williams began recruiting as one of the best players in the state of Alabama, his nickname spread in college circles. When he arrived on campus for visits, he was greeted with “Cadillac” – much to his displeasure.

But by the time Williams arrived in Auburn as a freshman in 2001, he had come to terms with the nickname. And it eventually became a big factor in his brand as a collegiate-level star player.

“I finally just stopped fighting it,” Williams said. “And who would have known that; it just started. Picked up. I still don’t know how it started.”

Harsin jokingly asked if he had upset Williams the whole time, after which the former All-SEC dam made it clear he appreciates how sacred the Auburn fanbase’s name has become.

“It’s weird because if anyone knows me, I don’t introduce myself as a Cadillac,” Williams said. “But on TV, if you watch Auburn games, it’s always been like that Cadillac Williams. People used to really think that was my first name. They’d say, ‘Your mom hit a home run with that.’ But: ‘Actually, that’s my nickname.’

“I don’t care about any of that now. It turned out well.”

As the only employee of Gus Malzahn when Harsin was hired in late 2020, Williams received a one-year contract extension last year – which has now suspended him until January 2023.

In William’s first season, leading the position group in 2019, Auburn had the No. 4 rushing offense in the SEC. 2020, Panzer Bigsby was the SEC Freshman of the Year, and he followed up on his strong debut by becoming Auburn’s first 1,000-yard rusher since Kerryon Johnson 2017 last season.

Williams is retrieving his top two rushers for 2022 at Bigsby and Jarquez Hunterand add newcomer Damari Alston.

The No. 2 leading rusher in Auburn history behind Bo JacksonWilliams went No. 5 overall in the 2005 draft. He retired in 2012 after 21 touchdowns in a seven-year NFL career.

Williams entered the coaching industry in 2016 as a graduate assistant at West Georgia. He then spent a year as an assistant at IMG Academy and the AAF’s Birmingham Irons before Malzahn hired him.

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