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Sidelines to headlines: How Trick Williams' NFL dreams turned into WWE superstardom

Barkley-Truaxby:Barkley Truax06/05/24


Matrick Belton a.k.a. Trick Williams
Credit: Katie Dugan

On Sunday, June 9, Trick Williams will defend his NXT Championship at NXT: BattleGround against Ethan Page in Las Vegas.

However, headlining pay-per-view events wasn’t always in the cards for 30-year-old Matrick Belton from Columbia, South Carolina. A one-time walk-on of the South Carolina football team with a dream of one day playing in the NFL, Belton was forced to earn every minute he played for the Gamecocks.

He would play wide receiver for the Gamecocks from 2014-16 where he would study physical education. He finished his career by catching 11 passes for 121 yards. All came during the 2015 season. He was poised for a breakout senior season in 2016 before his major interrupted his time on the field.

“To complete and to graduate the school with the courses and everything,” Belton, aka Trick Williams, told Paul Finebaum on Wednesday. “I had to go to a high school, which is called an Airport High School. It just so happened that during this school internship, the actual school hours were during football practice. So my whole senior season I wasn’t able to make practice because I had to graduate.

“It’s a choice I made, so I had to live with it. No excuses.”

Belton remained on the football team for his senior season, being slotted into various special teams roles due to his lack of practice time. After the season, he received no feedback at his pro day and his 11-catch sample size wasn’t enough to sweep NFL scouts off their feet.

Luckily, he just so happened to meet one of the NFL’s best wide receivers at the time.

“I took a job at Airport High School, and I trained every single day,” he said. “Eventually, I ran into a guy named Alshon Jeffery. We started training at the indoor facility at the University of South Carolina. And it’s crazy because Alshon, we were from the same place. … I’m going to meet Alshon at a workout in the weight room one day and as a way for Alshon to show up. Duce Staley shows up.”

Staley, at the time, was the running back coach for the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only this, but Staley was also a former running back for the University of South Carolina and was also a former running back at the same high school where Belton would end up doing his internship.

“So when I saw him I knew exactly who he was. I said, ‘Hey, I’m Trick Williams (Belton was not given the ‘Trick Williams’ moniker just yet), and I want to play football,'” Belton said. “He said, ‘Are you serious?’ I said ‘I’m dead serious.’ He said ‘I can’t do anything for you.'”

The conversation ended with Staley promising to give his film to the scouts at the Philadelphia Eagles.

Belton spent the next season as an assistant coach at the high school where he was interning. He was the type of coach that was very hands-on with his players.

“I’m coaching the kids with my football cleats on. I run the routes — but I’m getting better at the craft,” he explained.

All of this happened in 2017 — the same time that The Spring League (TSL) began. This league was to serve as an instructional league to showcase professional football talent who are still looking to make their NFL dreams a reality. Belton quickly found himself on a roster.

“I balled out, got some really good film and then I just kind of waited to hear.” When he didn’t hear back from any pro scouts, Belton eventually got his hands on a list of contacts that featured just about every wide receivers coach in the NFL’s number.

He sent his tape from junior college, his junior season at South Carolina, his pro day, spring league highlights — anything and everything that Belton had on his resume was given to these coaches.

“I just want an opportunity,” he said.

Eventually, he received two calls back from teams that he reached out to. Both times they thanked him for reaching out before letting him know that they had no space for his talents.

In a time like this — Belton did what any sensible man in his position would do. He called his mother and asked for advice.

Of course, she had the answer. In life, it’s all about who you know — and Belton had met some fairly influential figures during his later years in Columbia. She told him to phone up Duce Staley.

“He called me about two weeks later and said ‘Hey, Trick. Have you ever made it into NFL camp?’ I said, ‘No I’ve never been to an NFL camp.’ He said, ‘Congratulations, we’re bringing you into the Philadelphia Eagles rookie minicamp.’ And just like that, I made the camp with the Philadelphia Eagles.”

Belton “balled” at minicamp, but just as his dreams were realized — they were taken away just as fast. He was cut from the team and now, he had to make a decision.

“At this point, I’ve been playing football 20 years of my life,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what was next. So of course, I wanted to play football. I hired an agent — mind you, I did all of this without an agent at the time — so I hired an agent. ‘He says, ‘No problem, we can get you to another team.’ Nothing happens.

“Now at the time, this was when the XFL was just opening up again. So my agent said ‘Hey, maybe we’ll get you something going with the XFL.”

Of course, the owner of the XFL at the time was Vince McMahon — the longtime owner of the WWE. He heard back the very next day. Instead of receiving an email about joining an XFL team, however, Belton was surprised to see it was from the WWE themselves. They expressed an interest in Belton coming down to Orlando to try out at the WWE Performance Center.

At the time, Belton had never considered becoming a WWE superstar. But after his parents told him that he wouldn’t be making any money sitting on the couch — he decided to try something different. When he got down there, he was a natural.

“I go down to this tryout — absolutely love it,” Belton said. “I knew from the jump, man. Cutting promos, talking and being athletic are in my nature. It’s who I’ve been my whole life.”

Even still — WWE did not sign him the first time he tried out. They offered the advice of honing his craft and they will reach out to him in the future.

Belton moved back to Philadelphia where he competed at Combat Zone Wrestling, a long-standing independent promotion that at one time was known for its legitimate violence, and honed his craft at the Knox Pro gym.

After the COVID-19 pandemic, Belton was back in Orlando for a second tryout and this time, “the rest is history,” he said.

Belton, now performing under the ring name Trick Williams, debuted in September of 2021 where he quickly aligned himself with fellow WWE superstar Carmelo Hayes. Together the duo, affectionately known as ‘Trick Melo Gang,’ became fan favorites with the NXT fans at Full Sail University.

After playing the sidekick to Hayes, who had won the NXT Championship during their time together, for a couple of years, the two would end up working against one another after Hayes turned on Williams in the storyline. The two made history as the first pair of Black men to main event an NXT Stand & Deliver premium live event.

After just three years in the WWE system, Williams would finally claim NXT Championship gold in April of 2024, defeating Ilja Dragunov to begin the ‘Whoop That Era’ in NXT.

He’s become an undeniable star on the WWE’s developmental brand, and his stardom is sure to carry over to the main roster when the time comes. It’s long been a long-standing tradition in NXT that when the champion drops the belt to another superstar — they’re due for a run on Raw or SmackDown. He appears to be the next man up.

Williams, or Belton, is poised for a special run once his time comes. For now, he continues to hone his craft at the highest level possible with the best years of his career ahead of him.

He’ll look to continue that legacy when he works with former AEW star Ethan Page this Sunday.