Williams hopes to thrive in Husker offense
LINCOLN — On his first day in Lincoln, Mike Williams ordered a box combo and took a seat at a metal table inside Raising Cane’s.
Pop music played on the radio above as Williams shook off cobwebs from the night before. It’d been a long past few days. The Nebraska scholarship offer came on Sunday. Monday and Tuesday he packed his life up into bags and boxes and punched the address of Memorial Stadium in his phone. For 13 hours, Siri directed him left in Tupelo, Mississippi, left onto Interstate 55 in Memphis, north on Highway 65 in Springfield, Missouri, all the way to a place he’d never visited.
He got into Lincoln late, slept a few hours and hit class on Wednesday morning. For lunch — his first solace in days — he met up with fellow junior college transfers Greg Bell and Deontai Williams. Mike sat waiting for his food, talking with Bell and Williams when they realized two dudes from across the restaurant kept eyeballing their table and whispering to each other.
“Mike?” the Cane’s employee called from behind the counter.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound receiver got his chicken, fries and toast and rejoined his group, the eyes of the restaurant following his East Mississippi Community College jacket.
The three football players ate and tossed their trash, and as they left, they were stopped by the two dudes.
“You’re Mike Williams,” one of them said.
“Huge fan,” he said.
Williams smiled. He hadn’t practiced with Nebraska yet. Didn’t have any gear, wasn’t wearing the easily identifiable black backpack athletes are given. Williams was noticed because he was now semi-famous in this Midwestern town, more than a thousand miles from home in Florida.
“It’s surreal,” Williams said.
Going from being the 1,660th-best player in the 2016 recruiting class, according to 247Sports, to a star without making a catch is a weird transition, Williams said. And it will only get worse for Williams, who coaches believe could have a massive impact on Nebraska’s 2018 season. The wide receivers’ line for fan day was one of the longest, in part because of senior Stanley Morgan. But don’t sleep on Williams, his coaches say.
“You’re gonna see him out there Saturdays, he’s going to make plays and he’s gonna be a guy we’re going to count heavily on,” offensive coordinator Troy Walters said.
Nebraska’s wide receivers aren’t talked about all that often, in part because of the ongoing question of who will be Nebraska’s starting quarterback and the flurry of new running backs. The offensive line is always a hot topic, too. It could also have something to do with the known commodities Nebraska has at receiver. Everyone knows what Morgan and JD Spielman bring to the table, and Tyjon Lindsey’s potential. Williams is the wild card right now.
But coaches — Walters in particular — have high expectations for Williams. Walters believes that partly because Williams reminds Walters of himself. Walters had just two Division I offers out of college. Stanford offered Walters one week before signing day. Williams got his offer from Georgia Southern, where he played his freshman year, the night before signing day.
“Being a smaller receiver, he has a chip on his shoulder,” Walters said. “I think he feels like he was overlooked coming out of high school, and even in junior college ranks.”
Williams arrived and immediately hit it off with the coaching staff and the offense. Morgan often bursts into Williams’ media scrums, an early sign of acceptance.
But his fit within this scheme is almost scary, running backs coach Ryan Held said. He recruited Williams out of East Mississippi. After a poor freshman year at Georgia Southern, Williams blossomed at East Mississippi, with more than 20 yards per catch. Not surprising, even for a guy lightly recruited out of high school, Held said. Because in a spread system, Williams thrives.
“We loved his film. He fit another playmaker for us and so everything kind of happened fairly quick and we were able to get him without a visit,” Held said.
Williams is still getting used to the looks and the attention. Really, he’s just ready to play.
“I’m definitely in the right place to succeed, and I think we can do something special this year,” Williams said.