Williams on adversity, ‘I needed it and I’m grateful for it’
Aaron Williams had to pause a couple of times and ask himself, “Who am I missing?”
The senior safety from Atlanta was trying to rattle off something he had learned from each of his coaches during his time at Nebraska.
The list, as Husker fans well know, is a long one.
Williams and fellow senior Antonio Reed were part of Nebraska’s 2015 recruiting class and have had anything but stability in the coaching ranks since they arrived on campus.
They’ve been tutored by Brian Stewart and Mark Banker. The late Bob Elliott, Donte Williams and Scott Booker. Bob Diaco. Now Travis Fisher and Erik Chinander.
But Williams rattled them off. Stewart taught him the ropes of college football. Banker was assignment-focused. Elliot: technique and communication. Diaco: “He showed us good qualities that you need in life. So one of his biggest things that always stuck out to me was ‘BIA.’ So that just means Best In America.
“He just showed you how to give effort all the time no matter what you want to do.”
Fisher, according to Williams, is all about toughness.
Williams already had that, of course. He’s played through injuries for most of his career. He’s manned his safety position with abandon and shows no hesitation to launch himself into collisions, even though oftentimes he’s not the biggest person involved.
That’s continued in Williams’ final season. He was hurt on the first play of the spring game, missed all summer after labrum surgery and only started to get back toward full speed as the season began. He’s played through more as fall’s progressed.
He also wouldn’t trade it.
“I’m kind of happy that I went through that adversity because it will prepare me for life outside of football,” he said Tuesday. “Knowing how to cope with it and deal with it mentally and driving myself to overcome and get right back to it. I think I needed it and I’m grateful for it.”
There’s little doubt NU’s coaching staff is grateful for Williams. For all three of the Huskers’ senior safeties, really.
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Williams, Central Florida graduate transfer Tre Neal and Reed are third, fifth and eighth, respectively, on the team in tackles and have combined for 137 stops, three interceptions and seven pass breakups through 10 games.
Neal and junior college transfer Deontai Williams have factored prominently in a four-man rotation, but NU’s defense has still relied heavily on the pair of senior holdovers despite the addition of seven scholarship defensive backs between the end of spring ball and the beginning of fall camp.
“I don’t think anybody was trying to be replaced,” said defensive coordinator Chinander. “It was bringing in young guys for the future but also competition. If there wasn’t competition, the guys that were already here and are playing wouldn’t be as good. I think that’s what helped us the most.”
For his part, Aaron Williams considers that 2015 victory over Michigan State at Memorial Stadium as his best college memory to date. He’s trying to add a new one Saturday against the Spartans.
“We get to play a big team for senior day and just to be able to go out there and get the win that we’re going to get, I’m excited for it,” he said.
Aaron Williams’ parents will be on hand to see his final home game. He said he hopes to keep playing football after his time at Nebraska is over, but, “If it doesn’t happen, I have Plan B always, but my primary goal has always been to keep going.”
One of NU’s biggest offseason questions will be where it goes next at safety. Deontai Williams is back. So are JoJo Domann and Marquel Dismuke, though Domann’s played a hybrid spot recently and Dismuke’s been mostly a special-teams player. Freshmen C.J. Smith and Cam’Ron Jones are dealing with season-ending injuries, and Smith, given the timing of his last month, may not be ready for spring ball.
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Chinander, though, credits Williams and his senior partners as a big part of the reason why he’s confident NU will figure it out.
“They’ve turned the corner on how to practice and they’re setting it up for the generations to come,” he said. “The young kids are now starting to see how do you practice, how do you prepare, how do you lift, how do you meet, how do you eat.
“They’re doing a great job of setting the tempo, and I think that will carry right over to the spring.”