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From South Carolina football walk-on to WWE NXT Champion, Trick Williams trusts process on way to stardom

Griffin Goodwynby:Griffin Goodwyn06/12/24

Former South Carolina wide receiver Matrick Belton, like most football players, wanted an opportunity to play in the NFL. But the odds were stacked against him from the beginning.

A Columbia native attending W.J. Keenan High School, Belton received just two offers to play Division I football. One came from South Carolina State, and the other came from Hampton — the school he would ultimately join as a college freshman.

Wanting a shot at the FBS level and to play for his dream school, Belton decided to take a leap of faith by enrolling at the University of South Carolina and walking on its football team.

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It would not take long before Belton experienced success on the gridiron. After spending the 2014 campaign — his first in Garnet and Black — on the sidelines due to NCAA transfer rules at the time, he would appear in all 12 of the Gamecocks’ games the following year. He even started in five contests and caught 11 passes for 121 yards over the course of the whole season.

“That’s my dream school. It’s my first year being eligible. I went from walk-on to starter,” Belton said on The Paul Finebaum Show on Wednesday. “I mean, that’s just a testament to hard work and God. And, you know, being in the right place at the right time.”

That hard-working mindset has followed Belton everywhere his professional career has taken him. Just over a decade after Belton joined the Gamecocks, he is now a wrestler known as “Trick Williams” competing on WWE’s NXT circuit — a developmental pipeline that allows professional wrestlers to work towards earning a spot on WWE’s Raw or SmackDown rosters.

During that time frame, Belton encountered numerous obstacles that blew him off course. And while his professional football dreams may not have been realized, he is beginning to reap the rewards of that hard work early in his wrestling career.

He experienced the first of those obstacles during his senior season at South Carolina. Belton, a physical education major, missed his football practices because a required internship at a local high school was scheduled at the same time. As a result, Belton played exclusively on special teams for the 2016 campaign.

The decision would temporarily put a dent in Belton’s NFL hopes.

“It was a choice I made, so I had to live with it. No excuses,” Belton said. “After that, nothing happened after Pro Day, as you can guess. I didn’t have the film that would carry me over to the league.”

That was until Belton met two Gamecock football legends after taking a job at Airport High School. One of them was Alshon Jeffery, a former South Carolina wide receiver who had recently signed a four-year contract worth $52 million with the Philadelphia Eagles. Duce Staley, the Eagles’ running backs coach at the time, was the other.

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Even though Belton said he had a dream about playing for the Eagles, Staley would not offer any guarantees. But Staley did promise to share Belton’s film tapes with other professional scouts.

The following year, opportunity (and obstacle) number two came along. Belton received an offer to play in The Spring League, a recently-created developmental football league for player looking to earn a spot on an NFL roster.

Belton said he reached out to every NFL team he could before receiving only two responses. Representatives from both teams said there was not a place for him on their respective rosters.

At the request of his mother, Belton eventually reached out to Staley once again about potential professional football opportunities. Quickly, what was once a dream of Belton’s became a reality.

“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 said.

Belton’s dream was short-lived, however, as he was cut shortly after joining the team. As a result, Belton said he found himself at a crossroads as interest from NFL teams began to wane.

“At this point, I’ve been playing football 20 years of my life. I didn’t know exactly what was next,” Belton said. “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.”

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But much like The Spring League, another opportunity to play spring football was presented to Belton. This time, it was the most recent iteration of the XFL, which was owned by Vince McMahon at the time.

When Belton’s agent reached out to the league, he received a response shortly afterward. But it did not come from the XFL — It came from the WWE, another property McMahon owned. The professional wrestling organization wanted to gauge Belton’s interest in a tryout.

“Mind you, at this time, I had never really considered actually being a WWE superstar. I had been watching for a very long time. Matter of fact, my first cuss words were ‘open a can of whoop A’ when I was three years old watching Stone Cold Steve Austin.”

WWE did not sign Belton after that initial tryout. It took a second look for him to finally reach the organization’s professional circuit. But Belton said he quickly fell in love with the sport.

“(I) absolutely love it. I knew it from the jump,” Belton said. “Cutting promos, talking and being athletic is in my nature. It’s who I’ve been my whole life.”

Since joining WWE, Belton has skyrocketed to the top of its development circuit. Belton, competing as “Trick Williams,” claimed his first NXT Championship title after defeating Ilja Dragunov in April. On May 9, he defended that title in a win over Ethan Page at NXT: Battleground.

Belton said remaining confident in and trusting himself has helped him achieve professional success.

“Through this whole journey, taking a chance to leap out and walk-on to the University of South Carolina (football team). Deciding to leap out and try WWE. Deciding to leap out and go to Shawn Michaels’ office and say, ‘Hey, I want to take an opportunity on myself,'” Belton said. “I was willing to take that risk on myself because, if I can’t make plays, then I shouldn’t be in the game anyways.”

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